Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Blue Nile 4: High

Five years, seven years… having to wait only eight years for a new Blue Nile album was almost bucking the trend. But it doesn’t matter when High is as good as it is, and certainly better than Peace At Last. Here we finally have a real Blue Nile album, combining the minimalist pop if the first album, the lushness of Hats, and even the better acoustic moments of the previous one. Paul Buchanan dominates, as ever, but the other guys are still credited.
Stabby piano chords sustain “The Days Of Our Lives”, which slowly builds on the verge of becoming something but never resolving. It becomes a mere introduction for “I Would Never”, a classic ballad with just the right amount of Buchanan ache. Those stabby chords return on “Broken Loves”, but work around a bass part to give it more shape. Wisely, the effect of the spoken part repeated by a sung one doesn’t continue through the whole thing. With excellent balance, “Because Of Toledo” returns to plaintive acoustic regret, tough it’s not clear what it was about Toledo (pronounced like the Ohio city, and not the Spanish one) that seemingly pushed him to rehab. And then it’s back to the edgier, upbeat portrait in “She Saw The World”.
The title track is another sumptuous piano ballad, with a hint of fake strings and just the right amount of fake percussion — in other words, quintessential Blue Nile. That makes “Soul Boy” something of a retreat to the last album, musically and lyrically (“no more fight and no more leave” hearkens back to “Family Life”) but it’s still effective. The way it slows to a halt suggests the end of the album, but “Everybody Else” gathers enough momentum to keep things rolling before “Stay Close” provides another subdued’ lengthy conclusion.
High doesn’t sustain its strength throughout the program; after all, there could never be another Hats, could there? Still, for those of us who weren’t expecting much, it contributed a wonderful next chapter in the Blue Nile story, and we knew enough not to expect anything else for a while.
In fact, the rest of the catalog had been upgraded with bonus tracks well before they got to this one. Along with remixes of two songs, four unreleased tracks added to the bounty. “Wasted” could stand to have its drum machine mixed back sooner, but the melody is as nice as that in “i” (lowercase intentional). “Big Town” is a little busy, and despite the trappings of suburbia, “Here Come The Bluebirds” provides a low-key conclusion.

The Blue Nile High (2004)—
2020 Remastered Collector's Edition: same as 2004, plus 6 extra tracks

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