The Tipping Point is Tears For Fears’ first studio album since Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (2004) and the third to receive a surround sound release, following the thirtieth anniversary remixed re-releases of Songs From The Big Chair (1985) and The Seeds Of Love (1989).
Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith began work on what eventually became The Tipping Point way back in 2013, and even delivered a complete album to Universal Music for release in 2016. Universal chose to shelve the album in favor of a new greatest hits compilation–which included the new song “Stay”–while Orzabal and Smith began to express disappointment at the final product, which they’d developed mostly in separate rooms alongside teams of professional songwriters.
An already-bad situation was made even worse by the death of Orzabal’s wife in 2017 after a long battle with depression and alcoholism, which inspired the lyrics of “The Tipping Point” and “Please Be Happy.”
After a successful tour in 2019, the duo recovened at Smith’s home in Los Angeles in early 2020 and quickly developed the song “No Small Thing” on a pair of acoustic guitars. That session proved to be the spark that led to them reworking the finished 2016 album into what is now The Tipping Point, released through Concord Records in February 2022.
Having previously created 5.1 surround mixes for Songs From The Big Chair (1985) and The Seeds Of Love (1989), the band enlisted Steven Wilson to create a Dolby Atmos mix of The Tipping Point.
Initially intended only for spatial audio release on streaming platforms, Wilson, the band, and Paul Sinclair of SuperDeluxeEdition.com were able to convince Concord Records to release the immersive mixes on a limited-run Blu-Ray disc. Though the Dolby Atmos mix is available to stream on Apple Music and Tidal, the 5.1 surround mix is exclusive to the Blu-Ray.
It would appear their estimation that a market still exists for immersive music on physical disc was correct, as all 2000 copies of the Blu-Ray edition sold in less than 24 hours.
The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is a complete deconstruction of the album, with every last detail of the dense production exposed in the expanded soundfield. All the various processed or double-tracked vocal layers have been separated into different speakers while the lead stays focused in the center channel, stripped of all effects. Whereas the stereo mix–which is not included on the Blu-Ray–sounds closed-in and crowded from copious amounts of dynamic range compression, the surround is open and detailed.
“No Small Thing” begins the album with just acoustic guitar and Orzabal’s voice in the front soundstage, but additional elements such as organ, percussion, and backing vocals gradually begin to break through from the rear speakers. By the end of the song, the listener is engulfed by a dense, swirling tapestry of guitars and synthesizers that rivals the ending of “Standing On The Corner Of The Third World” From The Seeds Of Love.
When the title track was first released as a single in October 2021, I was immediately excited by the prospect of a surround mix and Wilson’s 5.1 rendition doesn’t disappoint. It starts with a synth in the front speakers, while sampled percussion dances back-and-forth in the rears and guitar delays bounce all around the listening space. The tom-toms enter from directly behind the listener’s head, as do the “you know that I can’t love you more” vocal refrains.
“Rivers Of Mercy” is another highlight, with its huge room-filling chorus and the “Woman In Chains” inspired guitar pattern mostly isolated in the right rear speaker. Rather than spoil all the best moments, I’ll say that it’s definitely a 5.1 mix to demonstrate your home theater system with. If you’re set up for it, the Dolby Atmos version builds on the strong foundation of the 5.1 mix and takes the immersion even further.
For those who were unable to purchase the Blu-Ray, I can only hope that the band and Concord Records will repress the Blu-Ray disc or make the immersive mixes available in some other form of ownable media in the future. It’s also my fondest wish that Steven Wilson be brought in to rework the remaining Tears For Fears studio albums, most notably The Hurting (1983) and Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (2004).