Tears for Fears' cover of Robert Wyatt's 'Sea Song' is even better than you'd expect

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This is actually in the Sun-Times archives.

Last week Universal reissued Tears for Fears' 1985 album Songs From the Big Chair in a ludicrously bloated and extravagant "Super Deluxe Edition" featuring four discs, two DVDs (one a DVD mix of the album and another consisting of a documentary, music videos, and live performances), and "a 30-page replica 1985 tour programme and a 32-page booklet" (according to the album's Wikipedia page). I can spare you the trouble of even wondering if you should purchase the musical equivalent of a Corvette and note that all this additional material is superfluous and unnecessary. However, the first disc, which more or less repeats the track list of a two-disc "Deluxe Edition" released in 2006 (they couldn't even get the date of the 20th anniversary right), is still worth owning in some form. As with other big-name synth-pop acts at the time, Tears for Fears were influenced by prog-rock staples that turned to art-pop later on in the 70s, so it makes sense that they'd find inspiration in someone like Robert Wyatt.

"Sea Song," the first track on the 1974 debut Rock Bottom, is a memorable and dynamic opener, showcasing Wyatt's warmly buzzing synths, odd percussion, complex melodies, and idiosyncratic voice, a high-pitched warble that rarely sounds like it's in key but is treated more like a trumpet than traditional singing (Wyatt often mouthed trumpet sounds, to the point of performing extensive vocal solos). Because of Wyatt's odd approach to pop music, his gorgeous songs tend to prove elusive to a large audience, so it's a smart decision for Tears for Fears to strip down "Sea Song" to its basic elements. Adopting little more than a piano setting on a synth and singer Roland Orzabal's more refined approach to vocals, Wyatt's genius has rarely been as cleanly identifiable. And in their decision to cover Wyatt's curveball of a song, Tears for Fears indicate how their ostensibly glitzy and shallow music actually shares sensibilities with the sophisticated and unusual music of 70s art-pop. Today's 12 O'Clock Track is a gateway to two artists with unfair preconceptions that may be an obstacle to unsuspecting listeners; it's also a really good song.

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