Cultural Consumption: 2/19/24

I come bearing gifts

Cultural Consumption: 2/19/24
Tomcats screaming outside

Busy day today and not a lot of time for listening to music, but I still come bearing gifts: Something happened today to remind me that Roland Orzabal's first "official" solo album, 2001's Tomcats Screaming Outside, isn't available on any streaming platform. This is a minor annoyance for the small group of us who've owned it since it sneaked onto store shelves, but it's tremendously bothersome for Tears for Fears fans who want to hear it and don't want to pay exorbitant prices on the collector's market.

I think at some point, most of the old Jefitoblog columns will end up resurfacing here — two in particular are already on the schedule for future posts — but the old Cutouts Gone Wild! series is probably always going to stay in mothballs, simply because so few albums are genuinely out of "print" these days. If something isn't available on a physical format, it's often streaming, and if it REALLY isn't easily accessed either way, then odds are no one really cares.

Not so re: Tomcats Screaming Outside. It's nominally Orzabal's solo debut, but as Tears for Fears fans are aware, he carried on under the TFF banner after splitting with bandmate Curt Smith following 1989's Seeds of Love LP. The next two Tears for Fears albums — 1993's Elemental and 1996's Raoul and the Kings of Spain — slot neatly into the "pretty good records from a band in name only" subgenre. I was essentially a TFF agnostic at the time, so I wasn't particularly broken up about Smith's absence; I enjoyed Elemental in particular.

For real fans, however, a reunion remained at the top of the wish list, and when Orzabal started working with Smith again around the turn of the century, he converted what was to be the next Tears for Fears record into a solo album. At this point, the band name wasn't worth what it had been, and he was even less appealing to labels as a solo artist, so he cut a deal with Gold Circle, the short-lived indie that was also home to former/future Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips. I'm pretty sure John Waite was also on Gold Circle for a minute. The label apparently had a thing for guys who'd once been lead singers for bands — and it also had a knack for making records disappear after releasing them, which is exactly what happened with Tomcats.

I guess it's only charitable to point out that Tomcats' ignominious fate wasn't entirely the fault of Gold Circle — the album had the misfortune of being released on September 11, 2001 — but given how feebly it promoted its other product, it's difficult to believe things would have turned out differently with any other release date. It isn't like radio was crying out for a new Tears for Fears record in 2001, and program directors REALLY could not have cared less about a solo project from Orzabal.

This is too bad, because Tomcats Screaming Outside is a pretty solid set of songs. In general, I tend to find that the results are underwhelming when older artists start messing around with younger sounds, and there was no small amount of risk involved when Orzabal decided to incorporate drum 'n' bass and trip-hop textures into his arsenal. It's difficult to seriously quibble with the end results, though — from start to finish, this record holds a dark, consistently engaging mood, and even as he fiddled about with trendy gewgaws, Orzabal's gift for melody did not desert him. As a bandmate, he seems like he may have been a bit of a bastard over the years, but he's a talented songwriter, and this is an interesting, semi-forgotten snapshot of a crossroads moment in his career. Here, hear it for yourself:

Tomcats Screaming
Shared with Dropbox

Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm S12 E3, "Vertical Drop, Horizontal Tug," in which Larry is flirted with by Sienna Miller, gets in trouble at the golf course yet again, and manages to deeply offend his neighbor and a group of friends with his somewhat casual attitude toward a person's acceptable response to a person or pet's potential or confirmed death. Also, several people see J.B. Smoove's balls. Chuckle, I did.

Reading: Still making my way through Nick DeRiso's Journey: Worlds Apart, which I intend to try and finish tonight. I'm not far from the end — we're well into the stage when Journey goes from an average classic rock band to a loose assemblage of rotating players led by warring nutbags Neal Schön and Jonathan Cain, with all kinds of lawsuits keeping things entertaining between summer tours. Also on my reading list: Ted Gioia's The State of the Culture, which paints a rather horrifying picture of where pop culture is headed as it squirms in the iron grip of assorted tech bros.