The Blue Nile - A Walk Across the Rooftops
Record Label: Virgin/EMI
Release Date: Jan. 22, 2013
Long before electro-pop and EDM became the cash cow that they are presently, one singular Scottish band forged a much-lauded niche by writing electro-inspired gems aided by airy synths, crystalline vocals and lyrics that were both poetic and prescient. Said band is the trio The Blue Nile, who recently reissued their 1984 debut A Walk Across the Rooftops, earlier this year. Remixed remastered and bookended by a companion disc featuring b-sides, rarities and fan favorites, the disc is an absolute must-have for anyone who has ever sat down at a keyboard and tried to write a song.
The title track and album opener is an atmospheric valentine replete with trumpet, strings and Paul Buchanan's quivering vocals. Both an affecting love song and a study in grade A songwriting, the song is a triumph in every sense of the word. Being that the album is a seminal classic, the title track is succeeded by six more near-masterpieces. "Tinseltown in the Rain" is moody, pensive and features a chugging beat that paints a cinematic and nocturnal portrait of defiant affection. Buttressed by strings, a pounding bass, the song leaps out of the speakers from the very first go.
"Rags to Riches" is quiet and meditative that coasts on the wings of rippling synths and Paul Buchanan's impassioned pleading. The song's latter 90 seconds take a dip towards ambient and celestial but that sense of free-form improvisation is what makes the song so compelling. "Stay" is pleading and effective as it wobbles and shivers with every passing second. Much like its predecessor, "Stay" features a final minute that finds the trio giving in to their instruments and letting their sweeping songcraft take flight.
"Easter Parade" is the album's lone piano ballad, a timeless and sparse effort that is a nearly flawless study in how restraint can give way to building crescendos. In addition, aside from being an indelible rumination on the ascent of spring, "Easter Parade" is also a master class in how just a piano, vocals and sensitive songwriting can do wonders.
The airy and spartan "Heatwave" trembles lightly with both grace and empathy. For any struggling songwriter wanting to know how to write songs that connect and click, look no further than "Heatwave." A Walk Across the Rooftops closes with the plaintive "Automobile Noise," a solid encapsulation of what makes both The Blue Nile and A Walk Across the Rooftops so great: sterling songwriting, a gifted vocalist and winning arrangements.
On Disc Two, there's The Police-like bounce of "I Love This Life," an ode to embracing life and relishing in simple delights; the previously unreleased "St. Catherine's Day," an absorbing ballad that is both timeless and engaging; and the spartan "The Second Act," a call to arms that showcases Buchanan's gifted range. "Regret" is supple, solacing and simple, while "Heatwave (Rhythm Mix)" is tribal, urban and eclectic. "Tinseltown in the Rain (Mix)" is fleshed out, nuanced and rhythmic. Far denser than the original, this version gives the song more life and vibrancy and shows the very power of a strong remix. Ditto for "Stay (Little Mix)," a decidedly more jazzy and ethereal effort that gives the song a whole new vibe and allows the song and lyrics to be seen through an entirely different prism.
Give yourself an hour and sit down with either of these discs, chances are it will make an impact. That very reason makes it all worth it. Then again, good songwriting always does.
"The Downtown Lights" from Hats is a classic and a great mood-setting song. For some reason, I've never checked out any of their other stuff, even the rest of Hats. I guess I sort of have them filed in my mind as a one-hit wonder. No one feels too bad about only knowing the one Soft Cell song, and that sort of how I looked at The Blue Nile. Apparently, I need to change my thinking.