Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Twelve Tasks Of ToffeeBoy #8 – The Blue Nile




Well what do you know? You wait simply ages for a Task Of ToffeeBoy and then three come along within a few minutes of each other – relatively speaking, that is. What’s more, against all odds, I’ve now caught up with myself – the eighth task arriving as it does, in the eighth month. And boy, have I got a good ‘un for you this month?

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of The Blue Nile. ‘Why weird and wonderful?’ I hear you ask. Because, dear reader, what other band can you name that have been together for 28 years with an unchanged line-up? OK, but what other band can you name who have released only four albums in that time – resulting in an average output of just over one track per year? OK, but what other band can you name that have consistently produced pop music of the highest quality over a period of nearly 3 decades without ever ‘selling out’ or releasing music for any other reason than that they want to? Huh? Eh? What’s that you say? No, I didn’t think you’d have an answer to that.

28 years - four albums: A Walk Across The Rooftops (1983), Hats (1989), Peace At Last (1996) and, most-recently High (2004). A total of 33 tracks: throw in the odd B-side and we’re still only just over the 40 mark. But what a body of work these 40 or so gems represent! Haunting melodies, soaring vocals, lyrics expressing sadness and loss and failed relationships – yet at the same time enveloping you with a sense of hope: a sense that life is worth living after all; that you might just have to work that little bit harder and perhaps look in unexpected places for the beautiful things that life can throw your way.

Research has shown that the average Blue Nile song is set at 2:30 in the morning. There is a surprisingly large number of references in the songs to such things as chimney pots, trumpets and fire engines. Oh, and trains. Plenty of trains. Late night trains, naturally. And it’s raining. And it’s more than likely that his baby just gone left him.

But don’t let that put you off. If you care to investigate the tracks I’ve selected for your edification, I can guarantee you passionate, heartfelt music. To the uninitiated, it might sound soulless – but it’s anything but. I don’t know a singer whose voice matches his bands’ music better than Paul Buchanan’s does The Blue Nile’s. There’s a moment at about 4:10 on Let’s Go Out Tonight when Paul sings ‘Baby, be my baby’ and the way he leans on the word ‘be’ and holds it for a nano-second longer than you’d expect, sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it. It sounds corny, I know (as indeed it does when he utters the immortal line ‘Come on girl’ at about 3:13 in Tomorrow Morning) but somehow, in Paul Buchanan’s hands it works – and it feels like heaven. Well, to me it does, and I know that in DarceysDad I have at least one supporter for this particular task.

Interestingly (well it’s interesting to me, pal!), the very first song I ever nominated on Readers Recommend (now there's an idea for a thread), way back in January 2008, was a Blue Nile recording. The theme was Songs About Trains and the track I chose was, logically enough, From A Late Night Train. Of course, as a newbie, I had no idea of the protocol of these things, and it turned out that a certain BeltwayBandit, of this parish, had already nominated the same song: a successful nomination as it turned out, and The Blue Nile’s only RR hit to date. I hope it’s not too late to say ‘make mine a dond, then.’

Five years have passed since the release of High so I guess we’re due another album any year now – almost certainly sometime during the next decade. There’s nothing on the band’s official website but there has been some live activity over the past few years so, who knows, something may be imminent – a word which, with The Blue Nile, has to be considered in relative terms. I live in hope and I know beyond doubt that when they do produce album number five, I’ll like it. In fact, I’m prepared to go on public record here and now as saying that I’ll love it!

Right, a bit of house keeping then it’s over to the music. If you buy only one Blue Nile album, make it Hats. But there are only four of them – so why not buy them all. If you listen to just one track, make it Downtown Lights.

Edit: I've made a couple of changes to the playlist - it was sounding a bit too unremittingly gloomy to me (and apparently DsD agrees). Too much shade for our liking - let there be light ...

The music
Tinseltown In The Rain
Regret
Let’s Go Out Tonight
God Bless You Kid
From A Late Night Train
Tomorrow Morning
Family Life
Because Of Toledo
She Saw The World
I Would Never

The links
Wikipedia
Official Site
Last.fm

21 comments:

sourpus said...

Its been a good while since I gave these songs a spin. They still sounds great though. Thanks for reminding us of how terrific Blue Nile were.

tincanman said...

Lovely choice m8!

12/12 on the Taskometer

Makinavaja said...

Thanks for this. I had forgotten how good they are, but they do give us time to do so, don't they? Looking forward to nº 9 already.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ sourpus - thanks for that. But, remember, it's how terrific they are - not were.

@ tincanman - glad you approve, m9?

@ Makinavaja - the ninth task will be a doozy. Promise ...

DarceysDad said...

G'deevnin' all.

Ah, The Blue Nile.

No dissent from me at all on this one, ToffeeBoy. Beautiful songs, beautiful arrangements; a masterclass in the demonstration of less-is-more.

At this late time of night, though, (having waded through 550 social emails, 135 work ones, my Fantasy Footy updates, and not even got near RR yet) all I'll say for now is that if you want to make the list less of a downer, I'd say include I Would Never in the list.

Just don't let fourfoot see this thread though: he had a pop at me once about Mr. Buchanan's output being for 39y.o. handwringers who need a slap from Mark E. Smith!!

Need me bed now. It's been a long day.

Chris said...

Hi, TB! I do quite like this. We've got back to Cathal Coughlan territory, to an extent, hence our taste boats find themselves in similar waters (I've no idea where that image came from, but I quite like it). Harmonically interesting, very atmospheric and not afraid of spaces. Er, this isn't Pop, is it......?

Just listening to 'God Bless You Kid' and realised it's very similar to 'Zen' by John Cale - on HoboSapiens: Spotified, if you're curious (I can't remember your feelings about him).

ToffeeBoy said...

@ DsD - what do you think this is? The Jimmy Young request show? Oh, alright then, I'll add it...

I know what you mean about 'less-is-more' and the feeling you get that there's a lot of 'space' in the songs but when you listen closely to tracks like Downtown Lights or God Bless You Kid there's actually a lot going on. They music builds in layers and by the end you almost have a Spectoresque wall of sound going on. Sufjan Stevens does the same sort of thing to great effect.

@ Chris - thanks for the feedback and the supportive words. I like the taste boats image! And I know we have no desire to revisit the 'Is This Pop?' debate but to me, this absolutely, 100%, definitely is pop music. Damn fine pop music, but pop music nonetheless.

I only know a bit of John Cale (there's a strong Jonathan Richman connection) so I'll check out your suggestion.

steenbeck said...

This is the first Toffeeboy task-band that I don't think I've heard AT ALL! Very exciting, and looking forward to listening.

glasshalfempty said...

Thanks TB. I'm in the same boat as Steen - this lot have passed me by, but one of the many pleasures of RR/Spill is the discovery of pastures new, so I'll have a good listen.

FP said...

Love "It's pissing down in tinsel town". Required listening when I was a styoo-dent.

Shoegazer said...

Good call on adding "I would never", their later stuff was starting to sound like a scottish acoustic Springsteen cover band until that one came on. What a great song. my faith in the Nile is restored.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ shoegazer - interesting you should mention Springsteen - I did read somewhere (can't find the source, I'm afraid) that he had expressed an interest in covering Because Of Toledo.

@ FP - you seem to have the title of that song slightly confused. I'll put it down to too many alchopops in the styoodent bar.

Proudfoot said...

Great late night music, but I forgot to poat my thanks. Nothing has dislodged Downtown Lights from my top ten since the late 90s so I agree that if there's one track...

Proudfoot said...

er post my thanks, that is. I'm sure poat should mean something though.

Proudfoot said...

PS I always feel like listening to Spirit of Eden after the Nile. Is that normal?

ToffeeBoy said...

@ proudfoot - thanks for this. I think the Spirit of Eden connection is spot on.

Edouard said...

I like this, as a Miles Davis fan I can definitely appreciate the use of space. It has that tension and density I like too.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ ejd - excellent. I like that - space, tension and density.

Mnemonic said...

On the first two tracks, I was thinking "pleasant but not essential" but once they got into the gloomy stuff, I absoltely loved them. One of those bands I've been vaguely aware of but never heard before. I'll definitely be buying some of those albums.

I do have glaring gaps in my knowledge of British/American music for several years while I was wasting in the Swedish and Libyan deserts and then another gap in the year I spent more or less flat on my back in the late eighties. I think Blue Nile must have fallen between those cracks.

Anonymous said...

Flat on your back in the 80s while bands fell through your cracks?
You're Patsy Kensit aren't you?

barbryn said...

I really wanted to love this... I've always been aware The Blue Nile were a gap in my musical knowledge, and that I would probably adore them once I heard them. Not sure though. Definitely liked it... but just a bit too much widescreen eighties-ness for my taste... those keyboards, reverbed vocals, washes of sound... But I'll give these tracks another spin, and maybe investigate further... there's definitely something there. ("Tomorrow Morning" was my stand-out track on a single listen, for what it's worth).