Here is a bit of advice for getting the most out of Tears For Fears' The Seeds of Love in surround sound: Play. It. Loud! And then maybe dance around the room a bunch.
More on that in a moment...
Seriously, while you can certainly enjoy this album at normal listening levels you may well appreciate the immersion experience better at a higher volume when listening to the Blu-ray Disc version in 5.1 surround sound as included in the new deluxe edition boxed set celebrating The Seeds of Love.
And you know what? Steven Wilson, producer of the surround mix, did such a nice job on this that even when playing it loudly the sound pressure didn't bother my ears (and I'm pretty sensitive to that!). I don't consider this a small detail as this album is no doubt a bright, '80s sounding recording yet it is also a rich production somehow offering a lot of warmth to bask in. Perhaps this little detail tucked away at the end of the liner notes has something to do with it: the mixes were transferred flat without additional mastering. So it didn't need any more tweaking at that point.
The original album of The Seeds of Love was a labor of love which took many years to envision, craft and ultimately produce into the global smash hit it became in 1989.
This was the album that made me a fan of Tears For Fears, not only for its wonderfully epic title track but the whole sweeping mood of the listening experience, start to finish. With a myriad of influences converging to create its own sound, I hear echoes of albums such as Talk Talk's Colour of Spring, Joni Mitchell's Chalk Mark In a Rainstorm, XTC's Skylarking and perhaps even a dose of Little Feat, Steely Dan and of course The Beatles. I'm sure there are other influences in there...
Accordingly, crafting a sound like that must have been monumental back in the day. Making a 5.1 surround mix from those elements today, even more so. Indeed in the booklet included in The Seeds of Love set, producer Steven Wilson explains:
"... there was the additional complication of locating the right master tapes, and it took the best part of a year before this was achieved and I could even start to work on a mix. The album was recorded over four years, many sessions, and in several studios, so the songs existed in multiple versions on many different reels of 32-channel tape. So which tapes?"
"However, with the help of original producer David Bascombe, and after several months wading through track sheets and several batches of tape transfers, we managed to identify most of the original parts. I say most because there were still some things that we couldn't find."
Honestly, if I hadn't read this I probably would not have been able to figure out that parts of some tracks were missing as Wilson explains above. For example, on "Year Of The Knife" alone, Wilson reports: "In the end, we managed to find nearly everything, creating a multitrack session that ran to well over 100 channels. But there is still one counterpoint string line that appears in the middle "psychedelic" section that proved elusive."
Well, like when I heard The Beach Boys's Pet Sounds in Stereo and Surround Sound for the first time (where some parts could also not be located when creating those mixes), I can attest that the surround mix still sounds like The Seeds of Love should. It doesn't replace the original of course, but it does offer a grand new cinemascopic perspective on this beloved recording.
The 5.1 mix is quite wonderful! The mix is richly immersive, with strings, voices and other effects percolating from all vantage points even though the rhythmic core usually stays pretty much front and center.
One of the great things to do when you put on the title track in 5.1 surround is to walk around the room while listening. This is one of those lovely immersive mixes where there's a lot of discrete activity going on, yet there is also a beautiful blend that brings everything together in three dimensional space in the room. Whether you stroll or dance around your listening room, this is such a complex and multifaceted production you can just lose yourself studying all that is going on. It's quite profound and at times even amazing!
It is worth the price of admission to this set just to hear the backwards drums at the intro of "Seeds of Love" swirling behind and around you in the intro.
"Woman In Chains" will give your subwoofer a nice workout from the get-go with it's thick low throb and smacking kick from Phil Collin's massive drums. Featured guest singer Oleta Adams sounds amazing in high resolution room filling sound! Mostly, the focus for the 5.1 mix is front-facing, but sometimes these neat drum parts creep up from behind. Percussion percolates around you when listening from the sweet spot.
One of the first things I noticed when I listened to "Badman's Song" (with fresh ears in preparing this review) was that the song sounds at times like Little Feat. It turns out from reading the comprehensive liner notes that composer Roland Orzabel (half of Tears For Fears) was in fact turned onto that band around the time of when he was working on this album. So that jamming vibe fit perfectly into the underlying concept behind this recording which was to get back to making music that was live feeling at its root.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as there is much more to discover listening to The Seeds of Love in surround sound (and in stereo, for that matter). I hope this gives you some idea of what to expect.
It's worth noting that on the disc you also get a high resolution transfer of the original Stereo 1989 Bob Ludwig mastered version of the album as well as Andrew Walter's 2015 remaster. And of course, across the four CDs in the set you'll get a wealthy of demos, outtakes, alternate mixes, jams, 45s and B-sides and more.
There is a lot of music to explore on The Seeds of Love, a beautiful, compact package celebrating one of the great pop albums of the '80s. Steven Wilson's surround sound mix elevates that rich experience up to a whole other new level of immersiveness.
This might well become a favorite demo disc. I can't wait to play it for some of my friends once we get beyond this Covid pandemic and I can have people over again for parties.