The Blue Nile – High

It's a well known story but for those who weren't paying attention I'll briefly summarise the tale for you. In 1984 three young Glaswegians who called themselves The Blue Nile released an l.p. on Scottish hi fi company Linn's record label that chiefly existed to promote the quality of their equipment.

A Walk Across The Rooftops became a bit of a cult classic so a quick follow up on a larger label with more promotional muscle was expected. However it was another five years before the follow up Hats was released, again to worldwide acclaim but with the world at their feet they decided to disappear again, for six years this time before the less anticipated Peace At Last came out. Apparently they were ready with an album three years ago but, perfectionists that they are they scrapped it, so now its eight years on and when most imagined they'd given up, a new Blue Nile CD has appeared.

Don't expect any Bowie or Radiohead like reinventions, c'mon it's The Blue Nile, so you get what you expected namely writer Paul Buchanan's gorgeous almost spoken vocals, largely slow melancholic tunes led by either piano or guitar and an understated production that begins to reveal itself on repeated plays.

Opener Days Of Our Lives is instantaneously recognisable as The Blue Nile and deals with lifestyle stagnation a recurring theme throughout the album. First single I Would Neve r is next. It has a gospel feel reminiscent of U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and is followed by Broken Loves which creates an edgy imagery of a dead end love affair, driven by an insistent piano motif.

Buchanan has stated that he has never been to Toledo , Ohio but that Because Of Toledo came about from an overheard conversation in a cafe during his sojourn in California in the 90's. It's a beautiful, simple melody starting on a lone acoustic guitar. It was during this spell that he dated actress Rosanna Arquette, who could be a possible source of the girl trouble documented in the lyrics despite the fact Buchanan have been back in Glasgow for a while now.

The most upbeat track musically, on the disc is She Saw The World but lyrically it maintains the wistful theme of reflectance on a collapsing relationship. The slow moving title track is another highlight with similar lyrical insight.

The only track previously released is Soul Boy which appeared in a radically different version on ex Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm's Reason album last year. It's another slow burner in keeping with much of the rest of what is a very cohesive album overall.

Calum Malcolm is at the helm for production duties as on previous Nile releases and creates a late night atmosphere similar to that of Hats . Initially sounding bare but with deeper investigation showing that more is going on there than you first imagined. Synthesisers are used with uncommon tastefulness to colour the sound and as on their other releases a drum machine provides percussion which can occasionally grate.

It should be noted that despite absolutely no mention in the packaging this disc that some copies of this disc are heavily copyright protected and will not play on a pc.

© Gordon Russell

Hothouse Flowers – Into your heart

In 2004, the hothouse flowers released ‘Into your heart’. It followed 6 years after the Born album which was itself a comeback album. Born was also a try out of a rockier more mainstream sound. While Born was an enjoyable listen it lacked the intensity and passion which the Flowers had shown on their previous release, ‘Songs from the rain’. ‘Into your heart’ restores that passion and possibly even raises the level somewhat.

Nearly 20 years after they first started out, Liam sings in such a world weary voice that you wonder if he is a broken man. He, andthe band, really have seen it all. Great success, which then disappeared. Adulation, groupies, wives, children etc. This is a completely different band to the one who released the fine album, ‘People’ in 1988. Not to mention their international debut of teh song, ‘Don’t go’ on the Eurovision song contest. That was part of a run of Irish domination of the competition, where oftenm it was teh entertainment that domninated the competion, rather than the actual entrants. The other great success, was of course, Riverdance.

There is a sticker on the front of this album which helpfully, using quotes fom reviews, more or less distills what this album is all about. ‘Raw, stirring…undeniably upbeat & positive’ according to the Sunday times. ‘Raw vocals, meaty vocals….soulful’ according to Q. The Sunday Independent, a local paper, says ‘it abounds with passion and raw unpolished soul’.

I wonder at the sunday times review. For me, this album is sung in a cracked, undeniably souldful voice, by a man who has seen it all and has been at the very end. Only now, he looks ahead to the future and a new idea. This is not candy pop. Possibly Lucinda Williams would be a familiar reference.

I think there is a strain of celtic music which exhibits this raw emotion. Yet it is never depressing but is stirring and invites one to share in the intense emotion. U2 simply have been the most successful and mainstream of artists to exploit these feelings.

‘Your love goes on’ does start the album off in a lively, upbeat mood. After so many years since the previous album, it is a joy to hear Liam’s voice, the full soulful backing, the gospel sounds etc. ‘This is a great love’ but what it really does is takes the writer from his own natural introverted melancholy self and brings them to the height of their living and emotions. Trumpet and horns and the Dublin Gospel choir bring this song to its joyful climax.

That mood doesn’t last long for the next song tells us that this is the ‘End of the road’. Everything has been tried. They’ve been here before and have tried to work things out, but they’re still here. Things haven’t gotten better. Goodbye. liam’s voice really does sound here, as if there have been many sleepless nights and many tears.

The next song starts off slowly and quietly before building to a crescendo of ‘Hallelujahs’. But rather than soleyly being effusive praise of God, somehow it sounds chemically induced, ritualistic. Does the singer believe what he is singing. It does include a ‘wild electric guitar solo’ for your pleasure.

‘Tell me’ is probably the bluesiest song on the album. It sounds robotic though. Its a harsh sound and almost difficult to listen to. Its the plea of a man to his lover, show me you love me. Or else I’m gone.

Liam sings ‘Better man’ in a falsetto, sounding like an old soul great. Again this tells of the effect the lover has on this man. ‘Make me love in a better way. Keep me smiling every day. Listen up to what I have to say. Baby you just make me feel like a better man’.

Again beautifully sung in a cracked hushed falsetto, ‘Peace tonight’ is a slow waltz. The intimacy of a close relationship. The complete immersion in the love of another.

‘Santa Monica’ is the song I heard before I purchased the album. The actual line is ‘Santa Monica’s big blue bus’ but really it sounds like teh blues in Santa Monica. It is a simply gorgeous track. Its the type of song you expect to see being played by a lonesome busker. Fabulous music on this and to me, it expresses that beautiful melancholy of travelling on your own. Observing all around you. I love teh line, ‘Oh, will I ever get over you. If only you could show me how’. We’ve all been there. If you haven’t, you will be. A great harmonica solo.

Is a theme emerging here? The next song tells its listener that ‘you’re the one that makes me ‘feel like living”. This is one of the most heart rending songs I have heard in quite a while. A simple lone piano starts off, violin starts a haunting support. Liam sings, utterly lost, utterly at the end. But yet, there is redemption there. In the love of another. This is stunning. Beatifully simple, startk and so so touching. Close to perfection. ANd each word is given its own moment, its own space to be felt.

The listener, nearyly at their own end now, needs something to pull themselves out of this mood. ‘Baby I got you’ therefore tries its best. Its a celebration of finding that special one in your life. Another soulful reading from Liam. He sounds like Prince at times.

‘Alright’ is practically on fire in comparison to the after midnight tracks we’ve been listening to. Sounding like the Byrds, all harmonies and chiming guitars, its delightful. Apparently, the ‘inspiration seemed to take us all away on a journey’. And thankfully, we’re all ‘going to make it through the night’.

‘Magic bracelets’ sounds like a gospel hymn with history. SOme flugelhorn lends it a mysterious air. It is in fact a tribute to reggae legend, Joe Higgs. This one is uplifting and needs to be sung in church.

Out of nowhere really is the final song on the album. Its a marvellous end to a marvellous album. Its a remarkably heartfelt and soaringly uplifting end. It, more than anything else here, expresses the sheer joy and excitement of being in love. Little wonder then, thatit is written by Liam, a different writer to the other songs, usually Peter O’Toole or Fiachna O’Braonain. Its dedicated to his wife and she should be very happy with this one. Airborne electric guitar helps this one to reach for the skies. The perfect end!

Except its not. Strangely they add on another song. ‘Si do Mhamo i’ is a traditional song sung live in Minneapois. God only knows how many of teh crowd understood it as it is sung in the band’s first language, Irish, or Gaelic. Its a great song in its own right but somehow sounds out of place here. But in a way its is fitting. It eases us back into our own lives after the intense emotional experience of this wonderful album.

Sound uality is good throughout. Packaging is in a jewel case withing a cardboard slip case. Liner notes include full lyrics and a background to each song. And some photos.