Last week I bought the new re-issues of the first two Blue Nile albums, A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, and was delighted and frustrated (although, I’d have say, more delighted than frustrated…)
Firstly, it needs to be said that the sound quality is astounding. If you remember being impressed by The Blue Nile on vinyl in the 80’s and then wondering why the CDs you paid all that money for in the later 80’s sit unplayed on the shelf, these are for you. All the nuances are back, intact…you’ll hear fingers on bass guitar strings, spookily precise imaging on percussion and orchestral stabs are STABS this time around.
And of course, the voice of Paul Buchanan.
The music of The Blue Nile once again sounds as if the bards in fealty to Apollo had landed in a G3 postcode then decided to make the best of it anyway.
So each of the original albums sounds great on its newly remastered CD; happily, the extra CDs of additional material are also of a higher standard than the usual “bonus tracks” supplied (like it or not) with this sort of re-issue. Most intriguing are the alternative versions of “Let’s Go Out Tonight” and “Saturday Night” from Hats – even on a couple of listenings, I believe these versions are every bit as good as the released versions with which we have been familiar for all these years – also noteworthy is the (allegedly) unreleased “St Catherine’s Day” which is added to the A Walk Across…package.
And this is where my frustration creeps in; there is no annotation of any use on either of these superficially handsome packages. The earlier of the two albums does not even mention that it has been re-mastered, or by whom, although Hats does credit Calum Malcolm (the all important engineer and contributor to the original recordings) with Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell. But none of the bonus tracks are usefully annotated as to where or when they were recorded or for what purpose? What does the title “Tinseltown In The Rain – Mix” mean? Clearly, it’s a mix; but was it done at the time of recording? Was it ever considered as the final mix? It sounds contemporary to me, but again I’m guessing.
What’s most annoying is that this shoddy titling gives us “Let’s Go Out Tonight – Vocal 2.” As I’ve said, this vocal is in my opinion the equal of the originally released take – but was that itself vocal 1, or vocal 200?
And that’s just the music. Each package features many lovely period photos of places in Glasgow and New York with resonance for the band…but as they are completely uncredited, I’m making an educated guess at that from my memories of reading Allan Brown’s Nileism some time ago. How annoying that the behemoth behind Virgin (for that is nominally the label on these) did not approach Brown for his advice and knowledge. (See the publisher’s website here.)
But that’s the rant over…essentially, two beautiful remasters of two wonderful albums. If you know the music already, you really need these, if you don’t, you probably still do, with the caveat that you should read Nileism as well for the background to these timeless recordings.