At first, the cards were stacked against a Tears For Fears album materializing. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, the British duo who already made their mark decades earlier with iconic ’80s hits like “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” “Mad World,” and “Shout,” had a completed album by 2016 then found themselves bent by an ongoing war between what the music they had created, the demands of a misdirected management, and without a label. All the while, both were tilted by their own personal turmoils over a seven-year stretch, and Orzabal and Smith found themselves where they started in Bath, England in 1981, on their own. Cutting the loose ends, the duo convened again in 2020 following a short tour to refine and ready their seventh album, and first in 17 years, The Tipping Point.
“We sort of found our way back together, spiritually if you like,” says Orzabal of uniting with Smith following their 2004 release Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. “We started the album about seven years ago, if not more, and we came up with a hell of a lot of songs—about three albums worth. Along the way, certain songs have refused to go away.”
Working through several years worth of songs along with longtime co-writer Charlton Pettus and producers Sacha Skarbek and Florian Reutter, Orzabal and Smith kept five tracks from their previous session. “Those were the five we felt would fit in with the sort of direction we were going in,” says Smith. “So, basically from 2020 to the end of 2021, we started with five songs, and we ended with the album.”
The Tipping Point marks personal plights, societal and political imbalances, while questioning humanity. Opening on the starker “No Small Thing” and title track, the symphonic pop of “Break the Man” is inspired by the notion of “Make America Great Again”—This is nothing like they said it would be / This has gone too far.
“It’s hoping for the destruction of the patriarchy at some point when women have more power,” shares Smith. “If we go back in time to something we’ve done before, it can be likened to ‘Women in Chains’ [The Seeds of Love, 1989] but that song was more about hoping that the abuse of women stops. This is more about empowering women and hoping that more women get to positions of power because I think it would probably do us a lot of good.”
Waves of personal tension and the trials around making the album are also palpable throughout The Tipping Point. Originally with Warner for their 2016 release, their now ex-management moved the pair to offer it to Universal, who removed two songs to repackage into a “Greatest Hits” release in 2017. Then, following a management-lawyer tangle, the duo found themselves without a record label and 10 songs, all while, Orzabal was caring for his wife Caroline of 35 years before her death in 2017.
On tour in 2019, Smith and Orzabal decided to remove their last loose end, their management, who previously suggested they pull in a collection of co-writers for the initial grouping of songs and adapt to being a “heritage act” that tours and plays their hits. The pair was also told their new album needed a narrative.
“To say, we needed a narrative is a bit crazy because you’ve got two songs on the album that deal with my late wife, her depression and descent into alcoholism and the accompanying mental issues,” says Orzabal. “Once the spotlight was put back on those tracks, Curt especially felt that it was not good enough,” says Orzabal, who, following the loss of his wife, felt there was more to add to their narrative.