Saturday, September 04, 2010

"Head Over Heels" / Tears for Fears

In my household, we're very keen on the TV series Psych. That's where this whole thing started. On last week's episode, one of the characters proves his filthy-rich-itude by having a pet musician hanging around his mansion --whom he introduces as Curt Smith. Now, for a nanosecond I thought "Oh, the guy from the Cure" (only, duh, that's Robert Smith, I realize now). It all got cleared up in a jiff, anyway, as soon as he started strumming his guitar and singing "Everybody Wants To Rule the World."

As rough as his performance was -- and that was part of the joke -- just hearing that jaunty bit of Eighties Cheese really sent me back in time. I won't pretend that I was a big Tears for Fears fan -- if I had been, maybe I'd have recognized the singer's name -- but you really couldn't escape them for a while there. And I think we did own one of their albums, the one with the black-and-white close-up photo of the two guys in the band. (What was with that in the Eighties -- just two guys was all you needed to have a band?)

Soon as I started listening to it, however, I completely forgot "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and got hooked instead on this one. Which as it happens was sung by the other guy in the band, Roland Orzabal -- go figure. Really, who kept them straight? Even after Curt left, and the band was just Roland (apparently in the Eighties you could even have a band with just one guy), I had no idea who was who.

But you gotta admit, it's a catchy little tune, even with all those glitzy Eighties production values. Mmmmm, I can see the fake fog rolling onto the stage now...

The lyrics are inconsequential, really; it's all about that electric piano riff, and those falsetto harmonies in the chorus. The main point of the song seems to be the guy's general inability to communicate with his girlfriend, so the fact that you can't really understand the mumbled-yet-sincere words seems quite natural. There is one line that always put me off -- "You keep your distance with a system of touch" -- I get the vowel play, the chiming of "sys" and "dis," but what in the hell does that mean? It's almost as if it was written by somebody for whom English was a second language.

But those yearning emotions, they come across perfectly well without lyrics. There's no story to tell, no situation to resolve -- it's just inchoate longing, and surprisingly powerful. Waves of knee-jerk nostalgia wash over me when I listen to this song. It's curious indeed.

I can't resist also letting you see this video, which has new words dubbed in over the original video. Hysterical!


Anonymous said...

"you keep your distance with a system of touch" means childish pushing, shoving etc. - a way to get close without giving away your true intentions. Written by someone who uses the English language poetically not just literally.

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, well, naturally I could figure out that's what it meant. But it's still an awkward locution that stuck out, and I had to think about it, in a way that disrupted the flow of the pop song. It's not like a Bob Dylan song, where the whole point is a rapid succession of clever phrases and images, clearly enunciated and set off by the song's arrangement. Now, if he'd built an entire verse around the details of that "system of touch", it would have been brilliant. But the way those syllables are slotted in, it sounds rather that he was just laboring over a rhyme for "too much."

And what's all that second verse about? Mother and sisters breathing in clean air? They wanted him to be a doctor? How on earth does that fit in?

My only recourse is to ignore the lyrics and enjoy his singing, the glossy arrangement (those pizzicato strings are just perfect), and the soaring anguish of the chorus. The way he flings his voice into the refrain is just plain irresistible. I like this song -- but don't try to convince me that the lyrics are poetry.