One Random Single a Day: “And I Was a Boy From School” (2013) by Tears For Fears

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So, I’m pretty familiar with the English group Tears For Fears in general, mainly from their album Songs From the Big Chair and especially from their collection of hit singles from the 80s like “Shout”, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, “Head Over Heels”, and “Mad World”. Simply put, I enjoy this output. I think they rightfully inject a considerable amount of earnest emotion and contemplation into a synthpop scene that can often feel vapid and tired. With that said, I am very unfamiliar with the stuff they’ve released after their peak – in fact, this may be the only song I’ve listened from them that wasn’t from the 80s! This single in particular comes from a 3-track EP called Ready Boy & Girls?, released exclusively for that year’s Record Store Day; this EP also includes two cover songs of Animal Collective’s “My Girls” and Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start”.

And yes, this song is a cover as well, originally recorded by Hot Chip under the title “Boy From School”. I haven’t listened to the entirety of The Warning, the album from which the original single comes from, but I’ve always admired Hot Chip and feel their sound accurately represents the specific kind of electro- dance pop that was becoming popular in in the mid-aughts. As with the other cover songs on the EP, this cover isn’t bad at all, although it is probably the one that differentiates itself the least amount from its original. I do love me a good cover song, but when the artist doing the covering does little to set itself apart from its predecessor, it does become a bit tiresome in its pointlessness. If there isn’t something new brought to the table, there’s certainly reason to believe that one could’ve just been listening to the original this whole time. Then again, I guess when a synthpop group covers an electropop group (especially when the latter artist was almost certainly influenced by the former in style and sound), there’s bound to be an overlap in similarities.

One thing I will say about Tears For Fears’ cover is that it does take on a bit of a more minimalist approach to the single. Hot Chip’s sound is pretty much defined by their layering of different sounds into vibrant bits of danceable electronic pop, with Alexis Taylor’s distinct vocals being one part of this whole. The cover, however, strips this all down to just a few lonely synths driving the whole piece, preferring more of a gradual buildup rather than an immediate explosion of sound. Moreover, the lead vocals of Roland Orzabal become the centerpiece of the whole track, with the kaleidoscope of music orbiting around him. Thus, this gives us a chance to pay more attention to the lyrics, which detail a painful nostalgia in repeating lines such as “We try, but we don’t belong” and “(I got, I got lost) / You said this was the way back”. It also helps that these vocals recount a certain sense of nostalgia in listeners themselves – specifically, a nostalgia for their earlier output and similar groups of this era like Pet Shop Boys and New Order.

Above all, though, this does evoke the inevitable sound of a formerly-famous, post-reunion musical group trying to rekindle their flame and also draw in a new audience. Why else would they release an album of covers from much more relevant artists besides to pique the interests of the exact crowd coming in for Record Store Day? I guess that makes this song – and this whole EP, for that matter – nothing more than superfluous material, especially in comparison to pretty much everything from Songs From the Big Chair. But that isn’t to say that it fails at being perfectly pleasant listening material, nonetheless.

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