Some eight barren years have elapsed since Glasgow's nocturnal melancholics The Blue Nile last tendered a studio album. However, patience is a virtue and "High" - which features material conceived and recorded over a ten year period, including a song once gifted to a former Spice Girl - yields a generous dividend for prostrate audiophiles and sleepwalking nighthawks alike. Like a far-away comet circling the universe in sublime and yet static perpetuity, The Blue Nile manoeuvre impressively into view every few years having changed very little, a compliment which can scarcely be applied to many other artists in their profession. In the manner of Talk Talk's Mark Hollis or Jackie Leven, Paul Buchanan's distressed utterances exude a downcast but romantic spirituality, mining a rich blue seam of fatigued detachment from the diaphragm upwards while somewhere in the background pianos, electronic drums and subtle acoustic guitars pulse inconspicuously and yet with all the assurances of a heart steadily beating inside the chest. Eavesdropping on restaurant conversations, gazing at passing cars, looking at "the morning people going to work and fading away" is the stuff of cold, terminal exclusion but "High" is beautifully warm, offering the uncluttered quiescent orderliness of sonic Feng Shui for the soul. --Kevin Maidment
The first album for eight years, and only the fourth in 21 years, High manages to maintain the Blue Nile's impeccably tasteful standards while soaring blissfully over the rattle and hum of most contemporary music. Paul Buchanan still sings his songs of faded love affairs, broken dreams and squandered ambitions with almost painful emotional candor, while the musical backings are as lush and flowing as ever.
Opening track "The Days of Our Lives" returns to the sparse sound of 1984's debut, A Walk Across the Rooftops, although the flush of youthful romantic exuberance has now been replaced by a world weary housewife who "sits around in her dressing gown". Buchanan's lyrics deal in the kind of details which can wrench the most telling of emotional responses from the seemingly mundane. On "Broken Loves" he sings, "Nothing I can say or do/will make you turn off the tv/and look up", perfectly evoking the heartbreaking frustration of knowing things are going wrong but not quite knowing why, and stalking similar territory to 1989's classic "Lets Go Out Tonight".
Elsewhere, "I Would Never" is as perfect a love song as you will ever hear, all the more striking for it's unashamed romanticism -as close as Buchanan ever gets to cliché. While most pop songs seem content to bask in the glow of eternal youth, The Blue Nile are resolutely adult in their concerns - 1996's Peace At Last dealt with the pressures and the joys of family and commitment, while High seems to deal with a re-affirmation of those same things, but with an occasionally ambiguous and fearful tone.
There are many recognizable Blue Nile motifs throughout - the imagery of rain, railway stations, traffic and rooftops will certainly be familiar - and the tempo barely rises above a stately shuffle, which for some might seem a missed opportunity for stylistic innovation. However, for those of us who've cherished the band's previous albums, High is like meeting a new friend, albeit one possessing a reassuring familiarity.
See you in ten years then, lads? --Michael Fitzsimmons
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DISC 11. THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES2. I WOULD NEVER3. BROKEN LOVES4. BECAUSE OF TOLEDO5. SHE SAW THE WORLD6. HIGH7. SOUL BOY8. EVERYBODY ELSE9. STAY CLOSE