The group this article is about, have only released four albums since forming in 1981. They have a reputation for working slowly, and the album this article is about was released seven years after their previous album. This album saw the group change their style. Previously it was based upon synthesizers, electronic instruments and percussion. The new sound on this album, sees the acoustic guitar played a bigger part. Released in June 1996, the album is Peace At Last, by The Blue Nile.

After seven years, The Blue Nile released the follow-up to 1989‘s Hats. Hats was received to critical acclaim, and reached number twelve in the UK album charts. This meant the group had a lot to live up to with their new album, Peace At Last. On its release, the album received mixed reviews, and sold poorly. Whether this was a reaction to the change in style in the band’s music, it’s hard to tell. That baffled me, because Peace At Last is a great album, one with ten great songs, with intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. As usual, the standard of musicianship and production is fantastic. In some ways, the album is more accessible, with the music on the album much lighter and easier on the ear. It is a good introduction to Blue Nile and their music. Although, I have always loved The Blue Nile’s first two albums, I felt that this album saw their music evolve. This is something that happens with all artists, it’s natural, allows them to develop as artists and explore new styles of music. I have chosen to review this album because it’s a wonderful album, and one that is vastly underrated.

Peace At Last begins with Happiness, a track that begins quietly, with a sweeping synth, an acoustic guitar strummed gently and then Paul Buchanan sings. After a seven year absence, his voice his just the same, he still sounds like the troubled troubadour of the first two albums. His voice is world weary, one that has lived a life. However there is one change. He sounds content, Happiness is a song about being content with life, domestically and personally. The sound on the track is minimalist, apart from the introduction of a gospel choir after about three minutes. This transforms the sound. Their short performance is joyous and uplifting. At the end on the track, Buchanan ponders whether the happiness will last. Great start to the album.

Tomorrow Morning starts in a similar vein to Happiness. It opens with acoustic guitar strummed, and Buchanan is in a rather pensive mood. In this song about love, he is insecure, wondering about what tomorrow brings. His emotions go from total insecurity to euphoria and happiness in the space of half a verse. The lyrics are some of the best on the album. They have a strong narrative, allowing the listener to hear the range on emotions Buchanan experiences. This song has quite a simple arrangement, the acoustic guitar plays a major role, a piano features and synths disguised as strings, all combine, to produce a stunning song.

The start to Sentimental Man sees guitar and drums come together to produce a moody and pensive atmosphere. Buchanan is in a thoughtful mood, and sings that it’s “not about money, and all about love.” His contentment shines through on this song. He is truly a man at piece with world. The sound on this track is bigger and fuller, than the previous two tracks. As the track progresses, the sound grows, peaking towards the end. Electric guitars, synths and drums dominate the track, and Buchanan’s vocal is loud strong, he shrieks and whoops, something unheard of before. A change in sound, but quality remains consistent.

There are two things that make the next track, Love Come Down, such a great track. The lyrics are among the best on the album, and Buchanan gives an outstanding vocal performance. Like other track, acoustic guitar starts the track. Drums are loud and sit at the front of the mix. The longer the track goes, the better the vocal. It’s a dramatic and passionate reading of the intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. 

When you hear the first few lines of Body and Soul, you immediately realize that this is one of the best songs on the album. The track has a familiar theme, acoustic guitar and vocal start the song. After that, the track builds, and opens out into one of the most beautiful and heartfelt songs on the album. Strings are used to augment the sound, they are understated, sit at the back of the mix, sweeping in and out of the track. The acoustic guitar is played loudly, with confidence, accompanying Buchanan’s soulful rendition of the lyrics. Speaking of the lyrics, they are an ode about love. How we feel when in love, and are an example of our feelings and hopes for the future when in love. They are some of the best lyrics on Peace At Last.

Holy Love has a totally different sound and feel. In many ways, it owes much to the sound on previous Blue Nile album. Backing vocalists sing one note, synths and drums sound dark, almost dull. Synths squelch, drums have a retro sound and feel, and even Buchanan’s vocal style has changed. As the song progresses, you find yourself wondering what direction it’s heading. Lyrics are sparse, the vocal has an experimental sound and feel, with Buchanan having to almost improvise. This is a good track, but lacks the quality of others on the album.

The Blue Nile return to a familiar theme on Family Man, contentment, contentment in your personal life. Family Man is a gentle song, one with similarities to Easter Parade on A Walk Across the Rooftops. It’s the sound and feel that make me draw this comparison. The track has a minimal sound, and starts with piano, which features heavily throughout the song. Later in the track, synths are transformed to sound like a string section, which add depth and feeling to the track. Buchanan’s voice is perfectly suited to deliver the heartfelt lyrics on this beautiful track.

Following the minimal sounding last track, the sound changes dramatically on War Is Love. The sound is fuller, with a moody, dramatic sound. War Is Love starts with those magical strings, via the synths, drums are loud, slow and crisp. Quickly, the sounds builds, Buchanan’s voice sounds moody, perfect to deliver the lyrics, which are about the breakdown of a relationship. His voice fluctuates, getting the message over about a turbulent, troubled relationship. In contrast to the darkness, the strings sit behind his vocal, producing light to Buchanan’s darkness. A sad song, delivered sincerely by Buchanan, which continues the quality on Peace At Last.

After the dark sounding War Is Love comes God Bless You Kid. Drums and strings start the track, giving it a lush sound. Buchanan’s mood and vocal seem happier. The song sweeps along, the sound gradually developing, yet still mostly drums, strings and synths accompanying the vocal. A guitar can be heard in the background. The lyrics are enigmatic, almost surreal, and I wonder if the lines “there is going on, when you get to the top” is a comment on The Blue Nile’s experience of having achieved successful in the music industry. God Bless You Kid shows a much different sound of the band, one that we never saw on A Walk Across the Rooftop or Hats. Like much of this album, it has a gentle, mellower sound, quite removed from their previous sound.

Peace At Last closes with Soon, another beautiful, gentle and mellow song. It starts slowly, keyboards playing, Buchanan sings. This is another love song. One about how can love coming soon, when we least expect it to. It can happen at given time, in even the most mundane situation. As you would expect from Blue Nile’s lyrics their clever, well constructed and the narrative is strong. You can close your eyes and imagine the scene being played out, and the characters involved. The track meanders, develops through time, building up slowly, until a great track evolves. One that Buchanan sings really well, behind a backdrop of sweeping strings, spacious plodding drums and percussion. It’s a lovely, soothing track, truly a thing of beauty, and a great way to end this great album.

Having spent some time listening again to Peace At Last, I can’t believe how it failed to receive the critical acclaim that the first two Blue Nile albums A Walk Across the Rooftop or Hats received. Although Peace At Last has a much different sound to its predecessors, it still is a great album, one full of fantastic songs that feature intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. Whether people had grown to love their “old sound,” and were shocked by the change in style, that could be one explanation. Another could be that the album was released at the wrong time. Seven years saw a huge difference in the type of music that was popular. Maybe it was just the wrong time to release the album. However, what this meant, is that a huge number of people missed out on hearing a wonderful album. That is their loss.  My hope is that people will reevaluate this album, and realize what they’ve missed. What they missed was a great album. I hope that after reading  this article, people will decide that they want to hear this album, hear what they’ve been missing, and make up for lost time. Should you decide to buy this album, and you’ve never heard The Blue Nile’s music, why not buy their other albums, A Walk Across the Rooftop, Hats and High. A Walk Across the Rooftop and Hats, are two classic albums, ones that should be in every record collection. Their final album High, is also worth buying. On High, the acoustic guitar is still present, but the group make a return to the sound that can be heard on Hats. So, if you’re unfamiliar with The Blue Nile’s music, this is a time to rectify that, by going out and buying their wonderful albums. Standout Tracks: Happiness, Love Come Down, Body and Soul and Soon.


1 Comment

  1. Rob

    I’ve avoided this album forever, but you just made me want it. Off to Amazon…

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