THE BLUE NILE-PEACE AT LAST.
The Blue Nile-Peace At Last.
Label: Confetti Records.
The Blue Nile were no ordinary band and did things their way. Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best of describe the Blue Nile, whose third album Peace At Last has just been reissued by Confetti Records on vinyl. It’s a welcome reissue of The Blue Nile’s third album.
Originally, Peace At Last was released in June 1996, seven years after the release of their critically acclaimed sophomore album, Hats. That’s not surprising.
Quite simply, The Blue Nile are unlike other bands. They do things their way, or not all. There’s no sense of urgency in the world of The Blue Nile. Things move slowly in the world of The Blue Nile. So it’s no surprise that it’s taken eighteen long years for Peace At Last to be rereleased. After all, there was a gap of seven years between The Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats and 1996s Peace At Last. Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s not surprising.
It’s no exaggeration to say that The Blue Nile were the complete opposite of most bands. Describing the Blue Nile as publicity shy, is an understatement. Indeed, since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed the Blue Nile, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they formed thirty-one 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. This would be apparent through The Blue Nile’s career, which began back in 1981, in Glasgow, Scotland’s musical capital.
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. However, they’d been busy. After Hats found its way onto American radio stations, The Blue Nile, who previously, had been one of music’s best kept secrets, were heard by a number of prestigious musicians. Among them were Robbie Robertson and Annie Lennox, Michael McDonald. After a decade struggling to get their music heard, The Blue Nile were big news. During this period, America would become like a second home to The Blue Nile, especially Paul.
Paul took to life in America, and in 1991, decided to make it his home. This just so happened to coincide with Paul’s relationship with actress Rosanna Arquette between 1991 and 1993. Hollywood starlets and Sunset Boulevard was a long way from Glasgow’s West End. In the midst of Paul’s relationship, disaster struck for The Blue Nile, they were dropped by their label.
Linn Records and Virgin decided to drop The Blue Nile. For some groups this would’ve been a disaster. Not The Blue Nile.
They signed to Warner Bros. While this sounded like the ideal solution for The Blue Nile, Paul made the deal without telling P.J and Robert. He later explained that “none of the others were in town at the time.” With a new contract signed, The Blue Nile began thinking about their third album.
So the band started looking for the perfect location to record their third album. They travelled across Europe looking for the right location. This location had to be private and suit their portable recording studio. Cities were suggested, considered and rejected. Among them, were Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Venice. Being The Blue Nile, things were never simple. Eventually, after much contemplation The Blue Nile ended up recording what became Peace At Last in three locations, Paris, Dublin and Los Angeles. For the first time, The Blue Nile recorded an album outside of their native Scotland.
For what became Peace At Last, Paul wrote nine tracks and cowrote God Bless You Kid with Robert Bell. When recording began, Paul played guitar and synths. Robert played bass and synths, while P.J. played keyboards and synths. Joining The Blue Nile were drummer Nigel Thomas and a gospel choir consisting of Eddie Tate and Friends. They featured on Happiness. Craig Armstrong took charge of the strings on Family Life. Peace At Last was produced by The Blue Nile, with Callum Malcolm engineering the sessions. Once Peace At Last was completed, it was released in June 1996.
On the release of Peace At Last, in June 1996, it reached just number thirteen and sold poorly. For The Blue Nile this was disappointing, given it was their major label debut. Worse was to come when the lead single Happiness failed to chart. Why was this though?
Critics remarked upon the change of sound on Peace At Last. It had a much more understated, restrained sound. Acoustic guitars and piano play important parts. The Blue Nile’s beloved synths sound like synths. Occasionally, The Blue Nile use real strings. There’s even a gospel choir on Happiness. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Peace At Last showed a different side to The Blue Nile and their music, one that divided the opinion of critics and fans. 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 on Peace At Last, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening Peace At Last is Happiness, the lead single. Just a sweeping synth and acoustic guitar combine, before Paul counts himself in. After seven years, the troubled troubadour is back, laying bare his soul. As he plays his trusty acoustic guitar, you can hear him change chords. His voice his just the same. It’s world weary, one that has lived a life. However there is one change. He sounds content. That’s apparent from the lyrics. Domestically and personally, Paul has found Peace At Last. Later, the minimalist sound changes. Joining the synths, bass, keyboards and chirping guitar are a gospel choir. They transform the track. Their short performance is joyous and uplifting After that Paul forever the optimist, ponders whether the happiness will last. Quite simply, a beautiful, melancholy song.
Tomorrow Morning starts in a similar vein to Happiness. Just a briskly strummed acoustic guitar and drums accompany Paul’s vocal. Pensive becomes hopeful, as he sings: “ we could be together tomorrow morning.” Synths replicate strings, as thoughtful keyboards and acoustic guitars accompany an insecure Paul. It’s that time of the night we’ve all experienced. Lying there, unable to sleep, we wonder what tomorrow brings. That’s Paul, 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 allow the listener to hear the range on emotions Paul experiences. With a brisk, minimalist arrangement, where the acoustic guitar, piano and synths disguised as strings combine, the result is a thoughtful, stunning soul-searching song many people will be able to empathise with.
As Sentimental Man unfolds just an acoustic guitar and drums combine, creating a moody and pensive atmosphere. Unlike the two previous albums, there’s no drum machines. Instead, Nigel’s drums, Robert’s bass and Paul’s guitar power the track along. They also add to the funk factor. Paul 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 peace with world. The sound on this track is bigger and fuller, than the previous two tracks. This is helped by the arrangement. The bass is panned hard left and the guitars hard right. Synths and Paul’s vocal fill the rest of the arrangement. As the track progresses, the sound grows, peaking towards the end. Guitars, synths and drums dominate the track, while Paul’s vocal is loud and strong. He shrieks and whoops, something unheard of before. A transformation in sound, but one thing remains the same…the quality.
Drums crack and Paul strums his guitar and delivers a needy, sincere vocal on Love Come Down. It’s as if he’s realised he’s in love and wants his partner to know it. With chirping guitars, synths and drums for company, Paul delivers a vocal tour de force. It’s one of his best vocals, growing in power, passion and joy. Drums are loud and sit at the front of the mix, while the guitars are a constant and welcome accompaniment. However, what makes the song is Paul’s vocal. It’s a dramatic and passionate reading of the intelligent and thoughtful lyrics.
From the opening bars of Body and Soul, it’s obvious that this is one of the best songs on Peace At Last. 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 Paul’s soulful rendition of the lyrics. Speaking of the lyrics, they’re an evocative paean. How we feel when in love, and are an example of our feelings and hopes for the future when in love. Without 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 albums. Just like the rest of Peace Of Last, the remastering makes the song come alive. New parts of the track shine through. 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 Paul’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 Paul having to almost improvise. Ethereal synths, chiming guitars, bursts of drum machines and Paul’s scatted vocal become one, on a track where Blue Nile’s past and present combine.
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. They add depth and feeling to the track. Paul’s voice is perfectly suited to deliver the heartfelt lyrics on this beautiful track.
After 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 Paul’s darkness. A heartbreakingly sad song, delivered sincerely by Paul. So realistic is Paul’s cathartic outpouring of hurt and heartbreak, that it sounds as if he’s lived, loved and survived to tell the tale.
Drums and strings open God Bless You Kid, giving it a lush sound. Buchanan’s mood and vocal seem happier. The arrangement sweeps along, gradually developing. Mostly drums, strings and synths accompany Paul as the song takes on a cinematic quality. Later, a guitar can be heard in the background. As for the lyrics , they’re enigmatic, almost surreal. Especially, when Paul sings: “I never grew up, I never grew down” and “it’s like Memphis after Elvis.” Here we hear a very different side of Blue Nile, one that we never saw on A Walk Across the Rooftop or Hats. Like much of this album, it has a gentle, mellow and understated sound, quite different from their previous sound.
Peace At Last closes with Soon, another beautiful, gentle and mellow song. It starts slowly, keyboards playing, Paul 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 Paul 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 the perfect way to end Peace At Last.
Of the quartet of albums The Blue Nile recorded, Peace At Last is their most underrated album. Peace At Last divided critics and fans. This new sound was very different from A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats. That was then, this was now. Seven years had passed since Hats. If The Blue Nile had released an album similar to Hats, they’d have been accused of standing still. That’s one thing The Blue Nile never did.
Far from it. Constantly, The Blue Nile were on a mission to create innovative and influential music. This they succeeded in doing. From the opening bars of Happiness, right through to the closing notes of Soon, The Blue Nile create timeless, ethereal music. Here, was a very different group the one that recorded Hats.
For much of the seven years, The Blue Nile had lived separate lives. P.J. and Robert lived happily in the West End of Glasgow. Paul however, led a very different life. Based in Los Angeles, he dated Hollywood starlets and spent time on Sunset Boulevard. This was a long way from Ashton Lane, in Glasgow’s West End. However, The Blue Nile reconvened for the recording of Peace At Last and Lady Luck smiled on them.
Having survived being dropped by Linn and Virgin, The Blue Nile signed to Warner Bros. Sadly, it was a one album deal. Following the commercial failure of Peace At Last, The Blue Nile were dropped. This wasn’t their fault. No. They’d recorded a minor classic at the wrong time.
Released in 1996, at the height of the vastly overrated Britpop boom, Peace At Last was the wrong album at the wrong time. Peace At Last took several years to record. By the 10th June 1996, when Peace At Last was released, music had changed. Britpop was King. Kinks and Beatles tribute bands were topping the charts. There was, it seems, no room for The Blue Nile, with Peace At Last only reaching number thirteen in the UK. It should’ve been a bigger commercial success.
During Peace At Last, The Blue Nile capture the listener’s attention with music that’s variously lush, atmospheric, beautiful, captivating, ethereal and lush. The Blue Nile draws the listener in, holding their attention. 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 ten peerless vocal performances courtesy 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 where The Blue Nile reinvent their music. The result is music that’s innovative, influential, ethereal and timeless.
With songs about love, love lost, betrayal, heartbreak, growing up and growling old, Peace At Last was a grown up album. It had a much more understated, restrained sound. Acoustic guitars and piano play important parts. The Blue Nile’s beloved synths sound like synths. Occasionally, The Blue Nile use real strings. There’s even a gospel choir on Happiness. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Peace At Last showed a different side to The Blue Nile and their music, one that divided the opinion of critics and fans. 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 troubadour, who wore his heart on his sleeve on A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats. Sadly this new side of The Blue Nile’s music wasn’t as popular as their two previous albums A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. However, Peace At Last The Blue Nile’s penultimate albumhas aged well.
Eight years later in 2004, The Blue Nile called time on their recording career, when they released High. That was their swan-song. Never again, would Paul, P.J. and Robert record another album. Their back-catalogue may only contain four albums, but it’s a rich musical legacy. The Blue Nile are one of the most innovative and influential groups in Scottish musical history. Similarly, their first two albums A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats are two of the greatest albums released by a Scottish band. Their underrated third album, Peace At Last, is a minor classic, which shows another side to The Blue Nile and their music.
The Blue Nile-Peace At Last Vinyl Reissue.