As a patient fan whose wait for a new Blue Nile album is one additional year longer every time, I feel squeamish about daring to find anything wrong with it. Indeed from the opening "she lives in a house on London" it's eager to welcome me back into their world, as if they'd never gone away. Paul Buchanan's lyrics are still fragmentary musings on the trappings of urban life, delivered as evocatively as ever in his tingly smooth tenor. While "Peace at Last", their "happy" album, was suffused with a nervous optimism, "High" takes a step inwards, into an introspective mid-life crisis. The songs are performed among the familiar scenery of rooftops, traffic lights and railway stations.
Their minimal musical backing is delicately and tastefully done. Those choppy strings give their old atmospheric edge, even though the sound is no longer original. It does slip into easy listening mode for a while, but their songwriting still has the power to mesmerise. "Broken Loves" is the most striking, beginning unassumingly with tinny digital-piano plonking. But out of the seed of that plonked chord they grow a thrilling tension, rooted on Buchanan's "I'll count you sticks and all your toys" refrain. There's a piece of each traditional kind of Blue Nile fare, like the evocative mid tempo "The Days of Our Lives", bare acoustic musings like "Because of Toledo", and the breezy pop of "She Saw the World". Buchanan's pleading takes a bland turn on "Soul Boy", but is more sincere on the eight-minute "Stay Close", where his endearing cry for affection is milked to almost eight minutes.
October 24, 2004