If The Hurting was mental anguish, Songs from the Big Chair marks the progression of emotional healing, a particularly bold sort of catharsis culled from Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith's shared attraction to primal scream therapy. The album also heralded a dramatic maturation in the band's music, away from the synth pop brand with which it was (unjustly) seared following the debut, and toward a complex, enveloping pop sophistication. The songwriting of Orzabal, Smith, and keyboardist Ian Stanley took a huge leap forward, drawing on reserves of palpable emotion and lovely, protracted melodies that draw just as much on soul and R&B music as they do on immediate pop hooks. The album could almost be called pseudo-conceptual, as each song holds its place and each is integral to the overall tapestry, a single-minded resolve that is easy to overlook when an album is as commercially successful as Songs from the Big Chair. And commercially successful it was, containing no less than three huge commercial radio hits, including the dramatic and insistent march, "Shout" and the shimmering, cascading "Head Over Heels," which, tellingly, is actually part of a song suite on the album. Orzabal and Smith's penchant for theorizing with steely-eyed austerity was mistaken for harsh bombasticism in some quarters, but separated from its era, the album only seems earnestly passionate and immediate, and each song has the same driven intent and the same glistening remoteness. It is not only a commercial triumph, it is an artistic tour de force. And in the loping, percolating "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," Tears for Fears perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the mid-'80s while impossibly managing to also create a dreamy, timeless pop classic. Songs from the Big Chair is one of the finest statements of the decade.
[The 2014 Super Deluxe Edition of Songs from the Big Chair greatly expands the original eight-song album, blowing it up to a four-CD, two-DVD box. The first disc contains a remastered version of the album, plus a variety of bonus tracks, many of which showed up on the previous two expanded versions of the album. Disc two is devoted to "edited songs," which can mean single versions, remixes, video versions and even a re-recording in the case of "I Believe." Disc three contains the remixes, ranging from extended versions to an "Urban Mix" of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Disc four has the unreleased songs but these are generally live sessions, either from a concert at Massey Hall or Radio 1 sessions with Richard Skinner; there are early mixes of "Mothers Talk," "The Way You Are," "Broken," and "Shout." Finally, there's a 5.1 mix of the album on disc five, and all the album's videos and a bunch of Top of the Pops appearances are rounded up on the DVD. This is too much for anybody who isn't a hardcore fan, but those hardcore fans will find plenty to treasure here.] ~ Stanton Swihart