on 22 June 2012
The interesting thing about reading these reviews is that the one star and the five star reviews both make comments about this album that it is difficult to deny: it is slow and one paced, it doesn't really ever break its emotional or musical stride and a lot of the tracks do blend into one another.
But that is also its remarkable strength. I think the only real problem with this album is that it needs much, much longer silences between each track so that the listener can effectively absorb what has just been heard. And what has just been heard is always, always, gorgeous. Paul's voice is, as ever, a suberb instrument that he holds on to here, never letting go as he did on some 'Peace at Last' tracks and to a certain extent elsewhere in the Blue Nile cannon. Here he holds on to the emotion in a 'Family Life'esque kind of way which, yes, does sometimes make you want to shout at him 'Let go, Paul, just let go', but you also know him well enough to know that really he can't and that is what makes his voice so powerful and his music so very engaging.
This is an intimate parlour record best listened to on your own, with headphones, late at night with a glass of Scotch and the family asleep upstairs. You can indulge yourself and remember that despite it all, despite the quotidian tedium of getting up and going to work, despite the housework and the cooking, the cleaning and the washing, it is all worthwhile because you are in love.
This is a lovely, lovely record. It is slow, it is one paced. It doesn't break out of the perametres it sets itself. But within them, it is a thing of great beauty.
on 3 June 2012
I notice that this is the first 4 star review of this album when people seem to either love or hate it. Like many other people I know, I consider The Blue Nile's "Hats" is one of the top albums of all time (though extraordinarily it is not in Rolling Stone's recent Top 500 albums - but then again there is no Kate Bush album in those 500 either!) and I approached this album thinking that it would be in the same mould. What you have here however is very sparse - on many tracks it is just voice and solo piano and it got me thinking what would "Hats" have sounded like "unplugged" and I think the answer is - very similar. This impression is reinforced by the one (gorgeous) track "Fin De Siecle" that has full orchestration and sounds very old-style Blue Nile - but then it is also the one track on which (intentionally?) ironically Buchanan does not sing! If you can accept the spartan arrangements, the quality of Buchanan's songwriting remains very high and I particularly disagree with one previous reviewer who complained of repetitive lyrics - this has always been one of his strengths as a lyric writer and only adds to the power of many of his songs. In summary if you are a Blue Nile fan please give this album time - if you are not - don't start here - buy "Hats" today!
on 9 December 2013
Dear Mr. Buchanan,
I doubt that you ever read these reviews (being so modest), but let me just say that (in my opinion) you manage to pack more emotion and atmosphere into a handful of piano key strokes and mumbled sentences than 'geniuses' like Mozart and Beethoven could muster with far more complex arrangements and an army of professional musicians. You've really stumbled onto your calling and given 'ordinary girls' (and boys, like me) music to live their lives by. I take my hat(s) off to you, sir. Please record another album before you call it a day ... and preferably in the next five years! Your music makes my life so much more enjoyable than it would otherwise be :-) .
on 11 June 2012
Paul Buchanan has written an album for which the words brooding, heartfelt and melancholia were surely invented. Offering little more than a few piano refrains on almost all tracks to accompany the melodies largely derived from Mr. Buchanan's aching voice, it's safe to say that this is not driving music to be cranked up in the car. Or maybe it is. Many's the time I listened to the Blue Nile's High late at night on lonely motorways driving back from some engagement, lost in the patterns of words and music, as the neon lights glided by.
Mid-Air is therefore both recognisable for that quality, but also quite a long way away from the atmosphere of Blue Nile records. Sure, a song like From a Late Night Train off Hats would suit the mood of this album well enough, but I always felt that even amongst the slow, angst-ridden contemplation of certain tracks - Because of Toledo say off High - there was an optimism and way out of the gloom; a possibility of things to come. Here, regret, loss, the past, decisions made, and hearts unnaturally broken, pervade throughout. I'm not saying it's bad or anything and if you're sitting there in your comfiest chair, alone in the early hours, listening to this on a hi-fi system that can project the sound of whiskey tumblers being clinked in the studio, then it's got its atmosphere earmarked for you from the off.
And yet when the strings eventually entered on Fin de Siècle it brought me out of the trance I was starting to enter and made me think the world wasn't that bad after all. That I'd entered such a state at all would be a good sign for most, but here the delicacy of the whole affair almost made me think I was intruding on private grief. That said, only Mr. Buchanan can come out with a melody and vocal delivery for a line like "Cars are in the Garden" and make it sound unbelievably profound; when, by rights, it ought to remind us of some dodgy `80s New Romantic synth outfit! Recommended then; just don't expect it to perk you up after a morning doing your weekly shop at Tescos.
on 17 November 2012
Reviewers complaining about the lack of variety or mood on this record are seriously missing the point. Just about every song brilliantly captures the mood Buchanan has been striving for on every album since A Walk Across The Rooftops: a wrenching melancholy that's simply impossible to categorise or pin down, occasionally bursting into sunlight and rapture. Listen to the title track and if you like it, buy this album. The songs are fragments, yes, but fragments of genius and Buchanan's voice - the most soulful British voice in contemporary music - leaves no heartstring unplucked. He's heartbroken and he can't tell you why but his attempts to tell you add up to magnificence.
on 21 May 2012
When i heard A walk across the Rooftops i was 18 and had fallen in love for the first time and worked nights making some money before Uni. Paul's voice was so full of yearning you could practically taste it.On my nights off,when i couldnt sleep i walked around my home town in the early hours lost in its sublime brilliance.
Fast forward to Hats,released during a rocky time in a new relationship "i know it's over now.But I cant let go" at that point i did wonder if Paul was stalking me and writing about me.But then that's the beauty of the Blue Nile,timeless,haunting in a "i've just read your diary sort of way."
That relationship floundered.The next major relationship came along just as 'Peace at Last was released." Now that i've found peace at last,tell me Jesus, will it last?"It was vital, it was hopeful and by this time i was wondering if i was actually a split personality and was Paul in an alter ego.
Then High came out at the start of a new relationship and blew me away." I would never turn my back on your love.Is there anybody there who knows me?" I disagree with other reviewers,i loved both Peace at Last and High,and my life has been so enriched by Tommorow Morning ,Family life,High,Because of Toledo and I would never.
Thankfully the Blue Nile released new albums very sparsely. Other wise id have broken up and found many more people than i have.To be fair introducing new loves to the Blue Nile was more stressful than meeting the parents.
Its like Opera. You can learn to love it but for those people it will never be part of their soul.
Mid Air is quite beautiful and if it was a painting it would be a Matisse or Van Gough, in the same way Lady Gaga would be a nursery school finger painting.
The elegance and fragility of the songs is quite breathtaking.Any songs from him are as precious as fragments of memories which we can't just quite let go even though they can cause us bitter sweet pain.
Buchanan sounds at times desolate,alone,broken,yet tinged with a vibrant hope and a sense that its the journey that's important,much more than the destination.
I have been moved to tears already by the majesty of Buchanan's voice on mid air and the Blue Nile have been the soundtrack to my Life,friend,companion,confidante,soul boy.
Paul one thing,,,,a new record sooner than 8 years i'm getting on a bit!
Paul Buchanan has one of the most hauntingly soulful voices Britain has ever given birth to. His vocal contributions to the smattering of records by Blue Nile are treasured by those who love them - particularly, in my case, the impeccable and unimprovable Hats.
Now here's a solo album, and for once it really is solo, with PB playing piano and other keyboards throughout. And what a beauty it is. My expectations were high, having read misleadingly ecstatic reviews which made it sound like the Second Coming, and it took a few plays - well, all of two, in fact - to take these brief, enigmatic songs to my heart.
There's no need to pick out certain tracks as 'better' than others, since this is more of a suite of songs than a succession of disparate album tracks. In an oblique way they remind me of the slower, more contemplative piano pieces by Erik Satie, such as the Gymnopedies or Gnossiennes, similar yet subtly different.
I play this lovely disc (I'm reviewing the single-CD rather than the deluxe issue) when I want to hear something pure, discreet, pared down. It`s all those things, but these gnomic songs possess an elusive, covert quality that is disarming and, ultimately, quite beautiful.
Of course, it helps if you have a voice like Paul Buchanan's.
The beauty of these songs lies as much in what is unsung as what is sung, a rare thing in itself.
That's PB all over - unsung, and quietly heroic.
on 1 November 2012
I am revisiting this album, in full, for the first time in about four months. I listened incessantly to it for many weeks after its release, lost in a ceasless sense of awe at the sheer grace in the music and pure heart and humanity of the sound.
Paul Buchanan's vocals are famously alluring even to those less enamoured with The Blue Nile than some of the more "gritty" bands of the 80's and 90's (I suppose almost all were grittier than the smooth but accomplished Nile), amongst whom I count myself, yet even knowing that soulful voice prepared me in no way for the emotional hit of this album. My first memories of that album, listening to porcelain pure music that could break a heart into many splintered pieces, in a slightly drunken spring, will always be recalled in some kind of Instagram inspired sepia.
It is fragile, in the sparsity of the sound, yet every note could be a novel, so deep the feeling. It is truly a masterpiece. It is the single most evocative album I've heard in years, and the brevity of both the songs and the whole work left me writhing in thirst for more of this. His voice becomes a whisper at times, and snuggles into the synapses, stroking gently, reassuring.
I have heard several good albums this year, and a few great. But this is, undoubtedly (so far), the best.
on 19 July 2012
A new collection of song fragments from the former Blue Nile singer, plain simple ballads, primarily Paul's voice and a piano, in some ways very similar to Roddy Frame's acoustic "Surf" album (however Roddy's "Surf" had tons more variety of pace and poise). I say song fragments as there are no choruses, no true melodies, almost a cathartic stream of consciousness mood piece.
You will not be putting many, if any of these on a Blue Nile compilation for the car or your ipod. They stand alone but it's a very one-note album, made for sitting with a glass of whisky in a darkened room late at night in contemplation.
Good to hear Paul's voice again, but it's not essential listening either.
Check a great interview on The Quietus website where Paul describes making the album, the break-up of The Blue Nile and hopes for the future.
on 7 December 2012
I'll start by stating that I've always loved The Blue Nile. So this album was always likely to hit the right notes for me. The thing is, apart from Paul Buchanan's voice and the lyrics, Mid Air is quite a distance from what is a typical Blue Nile album. Where normally you would expect an orchestra of strings to kick in, instead there is only piano and a barely audible Buchanan. For me, this works brilliantly well. There is a world-weariness in his voice but there is also warmth and beauty.
This is an album best-listened to in one sitting even though many of the songs have a "samey" quality about them. For me this isn't an issue as it fits in with the stylistic philosophy of the album. There aren't any songs that scream "hit" but again I don't see that as a problem. It's a proper album and really needs to be listened to as a collective whole. I'd recommend putting on some good headphones and retreating to a space where you wont' be distracted by the noise of the world.
Some might find the music depressing; I find it incredibly uplifting. It's one of my favourite albums of the year and I can't recommend it highly enough.