Friday, January 9, 2015

Blue Nile 3: Peace At Last

In the wake of Hats’ success, singer Paul Buchanan worked on albums by such people as Robbie Robertson and Julian Lennon and was even seen in the company of Rosanna Arquette (which would have made for some interesting conversation when he got to work with Peter Gabriel, but there we go getting ahead of ourselves again). Back in the land of The Blue Nile, their attention to detail meant that their third album, the more naturally acoustic Peace At Last, didn’t arrive for another seven years.
This is all on the assumption that the album was indeed a band project, because while all three members are listed in the notes, most of the songwriting is credited solely to Buchanan, and he’s the only guy pictured anywhere in the artwork. What also makes it different is the prominent acoustic guitar and real drums used throughout the first half.
After a trademark swell of synth, “Happiness” tiptoes in with a prayer to Jesus, complete with gospel choir belting out the title near the end. “Tomorrow Morning” has a little more pep, working better to sell the album. “Sentimental Man” builds canvas-style, but so do “Love Come Down” and “Body And Soul”, leading us to think that all should have been combined for one stellar track instead of three middling ones.
In the second half, the percussion reverts to electronic, making “Holy Love” little more than a demo. And it wouldn’t be a Blue Nile album without a tearjerker, and Buchanan pulls out all the stops for “Family Life”. Here a simple piano and high, swelling strings are the only accompaniment for another prayer of sorts, this time from the scene of a lonesome Christmas Eve. It’s not clear what’s got the narrator so upset, but you just want to give him a hug, with your own eyes burning by the time the little trumpet motif decorates the arrangement before the coda. The electronics come back to underscore the maxim that “War Is Love”, whatever that means. Just as befuddling is “God Bless You Kid”, until the chorus takes over and we return to classic Blue Nile territory. The ending goes on a little long, and “Soon” doesn’t make an impact until the bridge.
We’re tempted to demote the album below passing, except that Peace At Last isn’t necessarily bad. Utilizing the editing suggested above would go a long way to improving the overall listen. The “Happiness” CD singles overseas had three otherwise unreleased “B-sides”, two of which were easily as good if not better than what made the album, and none of which made it to the eventual expanded reissue. Instead we get three new, alternate mixes of songs from the album, two never-before-heard tracks and one demo, none very illuminating.

The Blue Nile Peace At Last (1996)—3
2014 Remastered Collector's Edition: same as 1996, plus 6 extra tracks

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