The Blue Nile – Hats – 1989 – Linn Records

Todays record is an minimalist, bleak, northern heartbreaker. I bought this album in a second hand record shop for a single solitary quid. That is  an entirely ridiculous price for one of the eighties perfect diamonds. The Blue Nile were, or maybe are, a band from Glasgow. Starting off in the early to mid 1980’s and their last album being in 2004 they have managed a staggering 4 records in 20 years. Quite the opposite of their compatriots the Skids who managed to make 8 singles and 2 albums records in those first two years.

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The Blue  Nile are a very different Scottish brand. No bagpipes guitar solos here. This is a lushly produced synthesiser based album (the guitars used here are solely in a supportive capacity). There is such care put into the production on this record. Each instrument has a specific purpose and is icy crystal clear. This is a record again that benefits from listening via headphones. The depth of sound is created by using not very many instruments very sparsely and building up the sound slowly. It is also very much a product of the 1980’s

Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell grew up together in Glasgow and met Paul Joseph Moore at University. They started life with regular instruments but soon turned to electronics out of pragmatism (they couldn’t play very well). Oddly enough by this time in their career they played incredibly well.

The themes are mostly love, lost love, walking around with your love, regretting love, wanting love……but in the darkest, wettest Glasgow winter you ever experienced. Lets have a look at the song titles. Over the Hillside (imagine if you will the Scottish hillsides, raining), The Downtown Lights (ah that would be at night then), Lets Go Out Tonight (er that would be night then), Headlights on the Parade (Headlights are on, that’s at night then….or its raining), From a Late Night Train (oh, that would be night then), Seven AM (night time for half the year) and Saturday Night (oh that would be night then). It’s pretty bleak but as smooth as silk.

So we have 7 tracks of neon illuminated heartbreak in 38 minutes. This is the bands second album recorded over 5 years. 7 tracks 5 years, 4 albums in 20 years. This is snail like progress. Look closer and we have all the hallmarks of obsessive perfectionism. They were not averse to chucking a whole album in the skip and starting all over again. I also have their last album which is also in the same vein but curiously not quite as impressive as this one although that could be that this one is so good. There has been no action since then

Every tiny hi-hat ’tisk’ is lovingly constructed. The instrumentation is then built on top so you can hear everything.  Their record label was Linn Records an offshoot of a very high end hi-fi producer (we are talking hi-fi equipment the price of a car here) and so this record has perfect reproduction in its blood. There are gorgeous sprayings of crisp guitar, distant trumpets, atmospheric synth strings and Paul Buchanan’s voice emerges directly from his aching Hibernian heart. He builds certain songs into incredible crescendos that send tingles straight up your spine. Just listen to ‘The Downtown Lights’, ‘Headlights on the Parade’ and ‘Saturday Night’ to get a flavour. This was a perfect showcase for Linns high end gear from the treble of hi-hat and snare to the very precise, straight line bass (there are no fancy runs here).

Unlike the Skids album this is a perfect record but of course the have every right to expect it to be after that amount of time. Do listen to it. I have rarely met folk that aren’t impressed with it (my wife lets me listen to this one outside of the headphones). It is an album for late nights. Saturday nights, yeah!

The Blue Nile – Hats

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