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High by The Blue Nile (Review)

Buchanan and his bandmates seem more interested in capturing the beauty and magic in life’s mundane details.
High, The Blue Nile

I’ve been a fan of The Blue Nile’s brand of lush, romantic pop for years now, ever since I discovered Peace at Last and Hats in my roommate’s collection. However, now that I stand on the verge of getting married and owning my own home — two very domestic acts I never thought I’d experience — the Scottish trio’s music seems even more relevant. While most bands might sing about excess and debauchery — sex, drugs, and all that — The Blue Nile staunchly takes the opposite route, singing atmospheric ballads about everyday life: marriage, raising children, driving home after work, and the vagaries of human relationships.

“The Days Of Our Lives,” the opening track on 2004’s High, clearly shows that Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell, and Paul Joseph Moore haven’t changed their focus one bit. The song depicts various snapshots of people burdened by life — a woman waiting for her children to come home from school, a man making his normal morning commute, a child who has been beaten up — and wondering just what the point is? Clearly, all are waiting for some sort of miracle, which Buchanan, in his rich, wavering voice (think Bono’s subtler, more restrained moments) affirms.

Admittedly, some might find the whole affair rather trite and treacly. And I don’t really blame them for feeling that way. Sometimes the band does cross the line over into sappy melodrama, as is the case with the pleading “Soul Boy” (“I just want to be loved by you/When I’m really loved by you/I’ll be a soul boy”), but that’s a rare case. More indicative is the haunting ballad “Because Of Toledo,” which chronicles an addict’s slow attempts to rejoin the real world and deal with mistakes they made.

This is a band whose only goal, it seems, is to chronicle the value of raising children right, the joy of having someone to come home to, the heartbreak of watching children grow old and leave, and the ache one feels when their life doesn’t quite turn out the way they wanted.

These are not simply sappy ballads meant to promote family values (though I’m sure the album would certainly be Focus on the Family-approved). Rather, Buchanan and his bandmates seem more interested in capturing the beauty and magic of these mundane details. There’s a startling honesty and intimacy in these songs. One gets the impression that each and every word and phrase has been labored over, has been rooted in the bands’ real life experiences with their own friends and families.

And then there’s the band’s music, which sounds decidedly out of touch with modern times (which is why High sounds just like their previous albums — a good thing here). The music is characterized by the sort of lush synths, drum programming, and glassy guitarwork that, when coupled with Buchanan’s passionate vocals, feels distinctly out of place by about two decades or so. But here, it makes perfect sense, bolstering the lyrics and adding the necessary substance and warmth to make them work.

Perhaps if The Blue Nile were more prolific, their songs might be sappier and more cloying. However, the band has only released 4 albums in 20 years, and it’s been 8 years since their last. As such, each Blue Nile release seems to exist within its own space, a calm piece of work untroubled by the hustle and bustle of trends and modern life, serving as a periodic but necessary reminder of the perils, joys, and magic of life in its most common and mundane forms.

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