Roland Orzabal is weeping. It’s a Saturday night in Los Angeles and Tears for Fears are midway through a triumphant set at the city’s Forum venue, which has already included a towering performance of mammoth 1985 hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and a euphoric version of 1989’s “Sowing the Seeds of Love”. It’s the reaction to new song “Rivers of Mercy”, however, that has 60-year-old Orzabal sweeping his flowing white locks aside to dab away tears. Thousands of voices sing along in unison while phone lights illuminate the darkness. His are not the only damp eyes in the house. “With ‘Rivers of Mercy’, I look into the audience and almost every night I see someone crying,” Orzabal explains later, when he and fellow founding bandmate Curt Smith, 61, speak to me over video call. “If you concentrate on them you start doing it yourself… and then you can’t sing!”
It’s little wonder Orzabal finds that moment of connection so overwhelming. “Rivers of Mercy” is the emotional centrepiece of the duo’s recent album The Tipping Point,their first in 17 years. They’d begun work on a new record in 2013 but scrapped and replaced most of their early material in the wake of the death of Orzabal’s wife Caroline in 2017. The couple had been together since they were teenagers in Bath and were married for 34 years, the last five of which Orzabal spent as her carer as she gradually succumbed to dementia and cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism.
“For me, the song ‘Rivers of Mercy’ expresses, within the album, the point at which there seems to be an emotional shift towards letting go of things,” explains Orzabal, his West Country brogue cracking softly. “It’s not easy, but that’s the only way we’re ever going to heal ourselves. It was written in 2020, at a point in my life where the anger and rage that I had been, in a sense, suffering from privately for many years when I was Caroline’s caretaker gave way to this deep feeling of peace.”