Mid Air is an extraordinarily intimate record, its spare piano and vocal-based arrangements unfurling at a meditative pace. Thirteen of its fourteen tracks are less than three minutes long, but rest assured all life is here. Buchanan's beautifully bruised voice remains a faithful conduit of all things emotive, and Mid Air was written from a place of humility and wee-small-hours contemplation. Says Paul: "I think if I'd tried to make a record that sounds like the band I'd be quite nervous, but this is more of a record-ette. It's quite small in stature and the songs are very brief, but don't get me wrong - it kept me awake at night." Buchanan also concedes that, in some ways, he is "continually re-writing the same song", chipping away at the themes that have absorbed him from day one. 'Far above the chimney tops / Take me where the bus don't stop" he sings here on My True Country. Naturally, such starry-eyed sentiments will chime with fans of the Blue Nile's charmed 1983 debut, A Walk Across The Rooftops. At root, these beautifully smudged miniatures represent a still more potent distillation of all that has made Buchanan's past work so special. Mid Air - his little "record-ette" as he calls it - is wonderfully big of heart.
The Blue Nile never sold lorry-loads of albums, but for converts to their unique fusion of romantic melancholy and robust hope they remain one of the finest, most quietly righteous bands of all time. The Glasgow trio who floated effacingly onto no scene in particular in the mid-80s have parted, and singer Paul Buchanan, now 56, releases his solo debut. It’s unconscionably beautiful, and may be the most moving, precious record of 2012.
Sparse in texture, it yields an almost overwhelming emotional kick, best received in the wee small hours. Buchanan carries the torch of Sinatra’s sensitive-masculine phrasing like no other. His wilfully imperfect vocals defy pat resolutions, hanging in the air like smoke plumes. It’s about the notes he leaves out, the spaces between, which, regarding loss, heartbreak and the yearning for beauty, say it all.
It’s mostly just voice and piano, with simple, effective melodies knowingly offering glimpses and echoes of earlier peaks. On My True Country, he sings "far above the chimney tops / take me where the bus don’t stop," channelling the essence of his former band’s A Walk Across the Rooftops. The lyrics throughout breathe fresh life into time-honoured imagery: snow, starlight, sky. "I want to live forever," he sings on the title-track, "and watch you dancing in the air."
Part eulogy (for a friend who died), part celebration of peripheral moments which inform the everyday with flecks of epiphany, the songs (titles like Half the World, Wedding Party and Summer’s on Its Way are as evocative as the work of Edward Hopper) bleed into a poised, tingling whole. Fin de Siecle is a gorgeous Nyman-esque instrumental, but this voice can sing "the cars are in the garden now" over and over and leave you marvelling at its poetic accuracy. On the closing After Dark he offers, "Life goes by and you learn / How to watch your bridges burn," and gently brooks no argument.
Louis MacNeice famously used the phrase "time was away and somewhere else" to describe the feeling of love. It equally well describes the 36 minutes of Mid Air, a masterpiece.
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