In search of The Blue Nile...from NZ
Updated: Aug 23, 2020
I made a clumsy attempt at writing a couple of album reviews at school in 1984. One was "Born in the USA" by you know who and the second was "A Walk Across the Rooftops" by The Blue Nile. Looking back I cannot think of 2 x contrasting releases. On the one hand the Boss about to be launched into the stratosphere of world entertainment domination assisted by CBS and his savvy management team and on the other a trio from Glasgow whom it seemed were quite happy to record (very occasionally) then retreat back into hiding.
The phenomenon that is Bruce will be the subject of an upcoming blog post but for the meantime I am more than happy to discuss the effect The Blue Nile had on me and how their debut, in particular still resonates. There was a local evening paper in Christchurch (the Christchurch Star) and I distinctly remember the review with an accompanying quote by the hugely popular and successful English producer Steve Lillywhite (think U2, Big Country, Simple Minds) , to the effect of "the best debut of the last 5 x years".
I latched on to Steve 's quote and delved into a cassette of The Blue Nile and I had never heard anything like it. It's all there in the first title track of the album - ghostly keys, bare snare drum (which for 36 years I mistakenly thought was an early Linn drum machine) and a plunging hypnotic bass riff to rival McCartney at his best moments on Abbey Road. But this is not Beatle music, in fact I still can't categorize The Blue Nile, maybe there is some Eno, or Peter Gabriel influence regardless the music provides a perfect setting for the Sinatra influenced tenor croon of Paul Buchanan's voice . Then there is track 2, "Tinseltown in the Rain", the bass carving out something the Neville Brothers would have been proud of , lovely strings and keys and an occasional flanged Fender Telecaster, with what with I guess is a drum programme machine underpinning it. Tinseltown is truly epic and yearning , it may be a person it may be a town "one day this love will all blow over, time for leaving the parade". If there is one Blue Nile song to listen to, this is it.
I haven't alluded to the lyrics across the album yet , and this is where things get timeless and account for the longevity of the disc. These could have been written yesterday. It's all universal yet deeply personal across songs that include "Automobile Noise", "Heatwave "and "Rags to Riches" .This may imply it is all over the place lyrically yet it is all exists cohesive as one piece and Buchanan is singing both for you and at you. I think it is an album best listened to alone at night on a walk, or in a car. It makes you think and it makes you shake your head as to how this could have all been written and produced. Above all else like all great music, whether happy or sad - it puts you in a better place.
I'm not sure if I turned anyone at school onto the The Blue Nile on the back of my review but I kept up with the trio ever since and learned that it was going to be a long and patient journey with 5,6 and 7 years between each release ("Hats", Peace in our Time", "High") then nothing except for a Paul Buchanan solo release in 2012 , However the one I return to most is "A Walk Across the Rooftops"
Postscript - Recently I launched the Steve Lillywhite "best debut in the last 5 x years" quote back at him via Twitter seeking a comment from the great producer himself. All he responded with was "because it was"..enough said #thebluenile #awalkacrosstherooftops