Raoul and the Kings of Spain is the most maligned album in Tears for Fears’ catalog…and I totally get that. It is completely out of step with everything else they’ve done before or since, closer in spirit to dinosaur rock from the ’70s — “Sketches of Pain,” while pretty, is a tad too close to “Dust in the Wind” — than the technicolor Beatlemania and moperrific synth pop that made them stars. Even more curious is how out of step the album is with what was happening in then-sole TFF survivor Roland Orzabal’s native England at the time, where the Brit-Pop flag was flying high. “Kick out the style, bring back the jam,” Orzabal had said in “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” right? Had he come up with something between “Sowing the Seeds” and the Jam — he was surely referring to Paul Weller and the Style Council with that line, yes? — Orzabal would have had a monster hit on his hands, and modern rock radio in America would have welcomed him back with open arms.
Instead, he made Raoul and the Kings of Spain. Whoops.
To be fair, the album had its moments, notably the widescreen ballad “Me and My Big Ideas.” Those strings had me from the second note — they just dripped with sadness. By the time the drums slowly faded in with the press roll-SPLASH of the cymbal, I was hooked. Bringing back Oleta Adams as Orzabal’s duet partner didn’t hurt, either. “Me and my big ideas won’t wash away your tears / No one else seems to mind that I’m not that kind,” he says in the first line. My best guess at the song’s intent is that of a couple where the girl fell for the big talking guy who turned out to just be a daydreamer with no real ambition, and now he’s trapped them both. Sort of like “Fairytale of New York,” without the name calling. I could be wrong, though; there is plenty of room in the lyrics for other interpretations.
The song came out as my relationship with College Girlfriend #2 was winding down. Things were actually going fine at the time, but a line towards the end of the song stuck in my craw:
“In a way, the dream is over”
It was over, and I knew it. I was friends at the time with two girls that I knew would be better matches for me than the one I was currently dating (case in point: I wound up marrying one of them), so while things with CG #2 were “fine,” I was stalling. Staying in the relationship was easy, but pointless. Today, the song makes me smile at my own naivete for ever thinking that she and I could overcome anything — pretty much everyone who knew us thought we made a lousy couple — as long as we loved each other. Me and my big ideas.
I always wondered how this song would have done on the charts had it been released as a single from The Seeds of Love, when the band was entering its “mature” phase but still a viable commercial property. By 1995, pop music had no place for either Tears for Fears or a song like this; the lyrics weren’t direct enough — certainly not compared to the following year’s smash hit, Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever” — and the production, while thick with melancholy, wasn’t saccharine enough. Sigh.