The Blue Nile Hats Reissue
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Five long years in the making, the Blue Nile's stellar Hats was well worth the wait; sweeping and majestic, it's a triumph of personal vision over the cold, remote calculations of technology. While created almost solely without benefit of live instruments, it is nevertheless an immensely warm and human album; Paul Buchanan's plaintive vocals and poignant songs are uncommonly moving, and his deployment of lush synth washes and electronic percussion is never gratuitous, each song instead crafted with painterly precision. Impressionistic and shimmering, tracks like "The Downtown Lights" and "From a Late Night Train" are perfectly evocative of their titles: Rich in romantic atmosphere and detail, they conjure a nocturnal fantasy world lit by neon and shrouded in fog, leaving Hats an intensely cinematic experience as well as a masterpiece of musical obsession, On Disc two, the extras, well it’s possibly a bit thin – if you’ve collected up the singles then you’ll have the b-sides but if you stopped at the albums or this is your first time accessing the album then you’ve got something new ahead of you on disc two. But I’m happy enough with the half-hour of extras because reissues only work for me if the album deserves to be heard again – in a new way, with fresh ears and Hats (and any of the Blue Nile albums) certainly deserves that. Gorgeous from the opening Over The Hillside through to the closer, Saturday Night. Here we have the pencil-sketches of the debut, but with extra shading. Hats was released in 1989 – it might, if anything, seem more appropriate now; it’s certainly lost absolutely nothing, and hearing it (again) after Buchanan’s solo album it almost feels like it could be a follow-up to that, as much as it was to the first Blue Nile album. That yearning sound Buchanan seems to on the one hand so effortlessly summon, on the other you know he’s pouring out his soul, giving his heart to each song, take Headlights on the Parade for example. Wow. Morose, maudlin, world-weary, it never sounded so sweet, so soulful, so beautiful.