ABC’s debut album The Lexicon Of Love (1982) isn’t a title I was personally familiar with, but it immediately piqued my interest when the band’s frontman Martin Fry announced last summer that the album had been remixed in Dolby Atmos by Steven Wilson as part of an upcoming 40th anniversary reissue.
Originally produced by ZTT Records founder and former Yes member Trevor Horn, The Lexicon Of Love reached the top of the UK album chart and spawned four top-20 singles: "Tears Are Not Enough," "Poison Arrow," "The Look of Love" and "All Of My Heart." Groundbreaking at the time, the album combined elements of new wave, disco, punk, and even Cole Porter-esque orchestration for a wholly-unique result.
Though a 4LP/Blu-Ray deluxe edition with Wilson’s remixes in stereo, 5.1 & Dolby Atmos is set to hit shelves this coming August, the Dolby Atmos mix very briefly became available to stream on Apple Music – likely as the result of a mistake – on the evening of May 16. I expect it will reappear when the box set is released, as happened earlier this year with the new Atmos version of Rush’s Signals (1982).
“Steven Wilson did an Atmos mix. We went to his house, and he kindly played it. It’s like walking into a crystal kingdom. It’s like walking into the record. It’s kind of an eerie and exciting experience. A lot of memories came back actually. It felt like I was back in the studio again. There’s a lot of detail. I play the songs and I’m familiar with the songs obviously. But there’s a lot of detail in the guitar work, like on “Tears Are Not Enough,” that I had not listened to for ages.”Martin Fry, July 2022
The new Atmos mix of The Lexicon Of Love takes on a somewhat different balance than Horn and engineer Gary Langan’s stereo mix, putting more ‘punch’ & emphasis into the drums and stripping back some of the ‘80s Lexicon 224 digital reverb for a clearer aesthetic. It would have great to hear the non-album singles like "Overture" and "Theme From Mantrap" in Atmos as well, but it appears that only the ten original album tracks were remixed by Wilson.
Having become pretty familiar with the stereo mix over these last few months, the drier sound of the remix did kind of catch me off guard at first – particularly on the opening track, “Show Me” – but gradually grew to appreciate the individual clarity of each part afforded by the new Atmos version.
Wilson unsurprisingly makes creative use of all 12 channels afforded by the 7.1.4 format, with some elements changing position from song-to-song in order to keep the listener engaged. Martin Fry’s lead vocals are solo’d dry in the center channel and seem a bit further back in the mix at times, at least for my tastes. I ended up boosting my center speaker close to 3 dB for a more pleasing balance.
After a room-filling orchestral intro, “Show Me” kicks into gear with the rhythm section holding down the front channels and keyboards filling out the side & rear speakers. Synth and string highlights pop in the height speakers, along with some big ‘80s drum samples towards the end of the song.
Moving into the hit single “Poison Arrow”, double-tracked vocals and percussion percolate from side & rear channels while Stephen Singleton’s sax travels around the heights. That big Phil Colllins-esque drum fill announcing the final chorus rather effectively pops up from above. The 'who broke my heart' pre-chorus backing vocals also appear from behind, with their reverse-reverb dutifully recreated by Wilson.
The funky “Tears Are Not Enough” is definitely a highlight, with the horns blasting from the rear height speakers while guitar stabs and double-tracked vocals pop up in the sides. The backing vocal chants of ‘blueprint’ and ‘picture’ appear directly behind the listener’s head. There’s even a passage with what sound like bongo drums swirling around the height array!
“Date Stamp” is another standout, with the cash register sound effects coming from above and horn echoes bouncing all around the room. Midway through the song, the female response vocal pops up from the rear heights to great effect.
The Atmos mix really showcases Trevor Horn’s opulent production, revealing tons of interesting details that were buried in the stereo version. Anne Dudley’s orchestration throughout “Valentine’s Day” and “The Look Of Love” is featured primarily from above, along with some previously-unheard percussion and synth blasts. The rear channel shouts of ‘who got the look!’ and ‘where’s the look!’ were expected in the latter tune, but very entertaining nonetheless.
The short instrumental closer “The Look Of Love, Part 4” makes for a fun Dolby Atmos demo, with the harpsichord swirling around the room during the intro. Trumpet blasts are isolated in the side surrounds and sax in the rears, while strings again appear largely from above.
Sound quality is generally excellent, though some of those passages with the orchestra at full force in the height speakers do seem to test the limits of the lossy Dolby Digital+/JOC codec used for Atmos streaming. As is typically the case with Atmos music, I have no doubt that the Dolby TrueHD presentation on the upcoming Blu-Ray release will represent a clear sonic improvement. Overall, this is sure to be among the best reissues of 2023!