Review by: Jonathan Moss
Something that became apparent to me on my second listen is that The Blue Nile’s singer – to me at least – sounds a lot like David Byrne. Only while David had a very, shall we say acrobatic style of singing and postmodernistic lyrical sensibilities, Paul Buchanan is smooth and lyrically sincere. Maybe Bryan Ferry would have been a better comparison, but I’m certain David and Paul were both influenced by him.
Either way, Paul’s vocal style goes perfectly with the album, which is smooth to the point of bordering on adult contemporary. What saves this from being adult contemporary – aside from the band being from my home city of Glasgow – is that Hats has a depth to it lacking in the majority of adult contemporary, and is musically very interesting, with fantastically gloomy synth tones, melodically beautiful pianos, jazzy saxophones and some subtle guitar playing, and enough romance to make Valentine’s Day appear to only be looking for a casual relationship by comparison. This is matched by Paul himself, whose sincerity stops this from seeming at all like a commercial effort, he seems like a true romantic, who gravely wants to convey his emotions, probably more for himself than for any audience. He’s an auteur, I guess. He also seems quite sexless for a romantic, which would separate him from Bryan Ferry, who of course with each Roxy album became more commercially guided (keep in mind I haven’t really read or paid attention to the lyrics on the album, I’m just basing this on how he sounds, for all I know he could be putting Lil Kim to shame). For the most part he sings pretty calmly, but there’s something almost heartbreaking about his voice, his romance is no doubt unrequited. This makes the drama underpinning it obvious. However, this isn’t psychoanalysis so I’ll keep to how he sounds. He’s capable with singing with obvious passion and torment, which adds further to the record, its complete lack of irony.
Sophisti-pop, more like sincerity-pop.
The album isn’t that long, and it doesn’t contain that many songs, seven to be precise, but each one sticks out individually. “Over the Hillside” is a great introduction, opening with a subdued drum machine, synths that are both ominous and beautiful in how they suggest the pretty blue of the album cover (the album cover fits the album perfectly in general, if you like it you’ll probably like the album), and some catchy, possibly Andy Summers influenced guitar playing. Over which Paul sings an utterly gorgeous vocal melody, conveying his despair and longing. It feels like the perfect song to put on during a melancholically rainy day, and lie in bed trying but not quite succeeding in reading a book as distraction, because you’re too overwhelmed by the weather outside and the emotions its inspiring in you. The song is a comfort.
“Seven Am” is another highlight, with Paul belting out “I NEED LOVE”.I don’t want to get too pretentious, but it could be the key moment of the album, spelling out the themes of unrequited love I talked about in the second paragraph. The song is quite subdued in general, but it does contain a dramatic synth flourish and a sense of urgency which almost hurts to listen to at times, you really feel for the guy, especially if you can relate to him, which I imagine most of us can.
Anyway, I could gush about the rest of the songs but you (yes, you) should really listen to the album and discover them yourself, there’s no reason not to, if I haven’t already made it apparent, this album is a masterpiece on the same level as Astral Weeks (feel free to co-credit this review to hyperbole, Nina).