THE BLUE NILE-HIGH.
THE BLUE NILE-HIGH.
Previously, I’ve described The Blue Nile as enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian. They could’ve and should’ve been the biggest band of their generation. However, The Blue Nile were always determined to do things their way. The Blue Nile are the complete opposite of most bands. They’re publicity shy. Describing the Blue Nile as publicity shy, is an understatement.
Indeed, since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed the Blue Nile in 1981, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they formed thirty-three years ago, the Blue Nile ticked the “no publicity” box. This has proved a double-edged sword, and resulted in the Blue Nile becoming one of the most enigmatic groups ever. They released just a quartet of albums during their career. Their finale was High, which saw The Blue Nile call time on their career. Even then, The Blue Nile never knew it was farewell. That proved to be the case. Before I tell you about High, I’ll tell you about The Blue Nile’s career.
The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, when two friends Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, met Paul Joseph Moore. They all had one thing in common, they were graduates of Glasgow University. Paul and Robert had both been in a band before, Night By Night. However, they type of music Night By Night performed was not deemed commercial enough, and they were unable to gain a recording contract. This lead to the formation of The Blue Nile
Once The Blue Nile were formed, they set up their own record label Peppermint Records. It was on Peppermint Records that The Blue Nile released their debut single, I Love This Life. This single was then picked up and re-released on the RSO label. Unfortunately for The Blue Nile RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace. Despite this setback, The Blue Nile kept writing and recording music.
Following the merger of RSO with Polygram, The Blue Nile continued to hone their sound. They wrote and recorded songs. Some of that material would later be found on A Walk Across the Rooftops. Then fate intervened and The Blue Nile met the man some people refer to as the fourth member of the band, recording engineer Calum Malcolm
When Callum heard The Blue Nile’s music, he alerted Linn Electronics. This was to prove a fortuitous break for the band. Linn gave The Blue Nile money to record a song that they could use to demonstrate the quality of Linn’s top-class stereo products. However, when Linn heard the track they were so pleased that decided to set up their own record label to release A Walk Across the Rooftops, The Blue Nile’s debut album.
Although the formation of Linn allowed the band to finally release their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops., Paul later speculated whether Linn was the right label for The Blue Nile? Paul said that he felt that Linn did not operate like a record label. However, he conceded that, during that period, The Blue Nile were not like a band. So, essentially, this was a match made in heaven for the release of A Walk Across the Rooftops.
On the release of A Walk Across the Rooftops, it was released to critical acclaim. Critics described the album as a minor classic. A Walk Across the Rooftops was described as ethereal, evocative, soulful and soul-baring. It also featured the vocals of troubled troubadour Paul Buchanan. Despite the critical acclaim A Walk Across the Rooftops enjoyed, it wasn’t a commercial success, reaching just number eight in the UK. However, since the A Walk Across the Rooftops has been recognised as a classic album. So has the followup Hats.
Unlike most bands, The Blue Nile weren’t in any rush to release their sophomore album Hats. There was a five year gap between A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. It was worth the wait. The Blue Nile had done it again. Hats was a classic. featuring seven tracks, written by Paul Buchanan, Glasgow’s answer to Frank Sinatra He’s a tortured troubadour, whose voice sounds as if he’s lived a thousand lives. Producing Hats was a group effort, with Paul, Robert and P.J. taking charge of production duties. Guiding them, was Callum Malcolm. On the release of Hats, British and American audiences proved more discerning and appreciative of the Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats.
On the release of Hats in the UK in 1989, it was critically acclaimed and commercial success, reaching number twelve in the UK. Then when it was released in America in 1990, audiences seemed to “get” Hats. Not only did it reach number 108 in the US Billboard 200 Charts, but The Downtown Lights reached number ten in the US Modern Rock Tracks charts. While this was a small crumb of comfort for the Blue Nile, in the UK, they remained a well kept secret. Since the release of Hats, like their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops it’s become a minor classic. With The Blue Nile making a breakthrough in America, most bands would’ve been keen to build on this and released another album before long. Not The Blue Nile.
Seven long years passed, where Blue Nile fans wondered what had become of Glasgow’s most enigmatic trio. Then the unthinkable happened. The Blue Nile signed a million Dollar deal with Warner Bros. and along came Peace At Last, released in 1996. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, with the America-influenced Peace At Last showing a different side to the Blue Nile and their music. Paul, Robert and P.J. were back, but it was a different sound. One constant was Paul’s worldweary vocal. He was still the tortured soul, who wore his heart on his sleeve. Opinions were divided among fans and critics, although it reached number thirteen in the UK. Little did anyone know that Peace At Last was their penultimate album. However, High, The Blue Nile’s final album was a long time coming.
It was eight years before The Blue Nile released another album. High was released in 2004. By then, many people had given up hope that we’d ever hear from The Blue Nile again. The band had been leading separate lives. While P.J. and Robert were content with their lives in the West End of Glasgow, while Paul had been spending his time between Glasgow and Hollywood. Now they were back and ready to record their fourth album, High.
High features nine songs written by Paul. P.J. played keyboards and synths, Robert bass and synths and Paul guitar. Callum Malcolm was the engineer and The Blue Nile produced High, which was released in August 2004.
Eight years after Peace At Last, High was a much more grownup album. Songs of family life and heartbreak sat side-by-side. Paul’s vocals were worldweary and knowing, while the music is emotive, ethereal and evocative. Critics love High. So did music lovers. High reached number ten in the UK, proving their most successful album, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening High is The Days Of Our Lives. Stabs of hypnotic, melancholy keyboards are repeated throughout the track. They provide the backdrop to Paul’s worldweary vocal. Soon, washes of synths, swathes of string and the occasional bursts of funky bass can be heard. Later, drums crack, adding to the drama, while Paul’s vocal is wistful and full of pathos. Just like he’s done so often, he makes the lyrics come alive, as he looks backwards at the past. This proves fitting, as High was their swan-song.
I Would Never was the first released from High. It has an understated, lush arrangement. That comes courtesy of washes of crystalline synths, acoustic guitar and pulsating bass. Then there’s Paul’s vocal. Glasgow’s troubled troubadour delivers a heartfelt vocal as he assures his partner “I Would Never turn my back on.” Quite simply, this is a beautiful ballad from a grown up Blue Nile.
Broken Loves opens with Paul’s half-spoken vocal accompanied by stabs of urgent keyboards. Frustration and emotion fill his voice as it grows in power and despair. The despair is caused by a relationship that’s all but over. This results in some soul searching from Paul. He paints pictures, reminiscing about their pasts. Memories from childhood seem to trigger an outpouring of emotion. His vocal becomes needy, and he’s determined they don’t give up on their relationship. Dramatic, emotive and heartbreaking, it’s an evocative description of a relationship gone wrong.
Just a lone acoustic guitar opens Because Of Toledo, as Paul delivers a world-weary vocal. Heartbroken and despondent, his life’s lost meaning and direction, because his relationship has ended. Again, Paul makes the lyrics come to life. They take on a cinematic quality. Soon, pictures unfold before your eyes, a heartbroken Paul sitting despondent, in the motel he sings about during this heartbreakingly beautiful breakup song.
Ethereal describes the introduction of She Saw The World. That’s before the tempo and drama increases. Driven along by drums, keyboards and washes of synths Paul delivers an urgent emotive vocal. Memories come flooding back as he reminisces about two people who drifted apart. Sadness fills his voice as he sings: “ She Saw The World and wanted it all.” Paul he remembers what he once had and lost. Oozing emotion, Paul’s lived-in, weary vocal and one of the best arrangements on High, result in one of the album’s many highlights.
Washes of synths shimmer, while a lone piano provides a contrast as High unfolds. Paul’s vocal is tender, but with a sense of resignation at the relationship that’s gone wrong. A drum machine provides the heartbeat as Paul’s vocal becomes a cathartic outpouring of emotion. Mixing power, passion and drama Paul lays bare his weary soul for all to hear.
As Soul Boy unfolds, drums crack and are matched by a pulsating bass and meandering guitar. Paul’s vocal is tender and needy. He delivers the some of the best lyrics on High. This includes: “let me be the one, there’s been no other one, trusted and true, for so long…I just want to be loved by you.” With an arrangement that’s reminiscent of vintage Blue Nile and Paul’s needy seductive, vocal this is The Blue Nile back to their best.
Everybody Else is quite different from the previous track. It shows The Blue Nile are determined their music stays relevant. It’s an uptempo track that’s the nearest thing to a dance track The Blue Nile produced. Paul’s vocal is accompanied by swathes of sweeping strings, pounding bass and hypnotic drums. He’s plays the role troubled troubadour to perfection, as The Blue Nile demonstrate another side to their music, on a track that’s not short of poppy hooks.
Stay Close closes High and sadly, the recording career of The Blue Nile. The tempo is dropped, a drum machine, crystalline guitar and washes of synths providing a melancholy backdrop for Paul’s vocal. He’s saved the best to last. It’s as if he knew this was farewell. Digging deep, he unleashes a soul-baring Magnus Opus. His vocal is needy as he pleads, “Stay Close to me.” However, he knows though, “you’ll go your own way.” You’re drawn into this scenario, feel and share Paul’s pain and heartache. He’s not giving up though, and delivers a heartachingly beautiful vocal on this heartbreaking paean. What a way for The Blue Nile to call time on their recording career?
Although The Blue Nile only recorded four albums in a twenty year period, it’s the quality of music that matters. These four albums were almost flawless. Certainly A Walk Across The Rooftop and Hats are classics. Peace At Last is probably the most underrated album in The Blue Nile’s back-catalogue. That brings us to High.
Having not released an album for eight years. During that period, The Blue Nile had been living separate lives. P.J. and Robert were living in the West End of Glasgow, while Paul lived a nomadic existence, flitting between Hollywood, Europe and Glasgow. He’d been involved in some high profile relationships, and by 2004, just when everyone thought The Blue Nile were no more, rose like a Phoenix from the ashes. They didn’t even have a record deal, so agreed a deal with Sanctuary Records to release High. It proved to be the most successful album of their career.
During the time they’d been away, The Blue Nile had matured as a band. Some people said they’d grownup. What had happened was life. Having been outside the bubble that was Blue Nile, P.J. and Robert had to get on with life. The Blue Nile was on a hiatus, maybe a permanent one. As for Paul, he was leading a very different life. This gave him the material for High.
On the nine songs that comprise High, you’re drawn into the album’s lush, atmospheric sound. Having captured your attention, The Blue Nile don’t let go. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to peerless vocal performances of Glasgow’s very own Frank Sinatra, Paul Buchanan. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. Paul’s vocal adds soulfulness to an album that references Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Tim Buckley, classic soul and seventies funk. The result is a compelling, innovative album, High.
After High, people thought that The Blue Nile would return, possibly after another lengthy break. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. The Blue Nile were no more. At least they’d did things their way. Right up until the release of High, The Blue Nile were enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. The Blue Nile weren’t exactly your normal band. Not for them the rock “n” roll lifestyle favoured by other bands. In many ways, musical fashions and fads didn’t affect them. Their attitude was almost contrarian. Albums were recorded slowly and methodically as the Blue Nile strived for musical perfection. This wasn’t a group willing to jump onto a musical bandwagon in pursuit of fame, fortune or starlets. Quite the opposite. It seemed to be their way or no way in the pursuit of musical perfection. The Blue Nile achieved that perfection four times, and ended their career on a High. Standout Tracks: I Would Never, Because Of Toledo, She Saw The World and Stay Close.
THE BLUE NILE-HIGH.