Home Music The Blue Nile: High (Reissue)

The Blue Nile: High (Reissue)

When The Blue Nile’s fourth album, High, first came out in 2004, it was greeted with a kind of relief: relief that the band had, after eight years’ absence, finally released another disc. But relief, too, that the band appeared to be returning to form after the sidestep of 1996’s Peace at Last, where the group eschewed their trademark electronic sounds and late-night lyrics for guitar, choir, and church. Now Confetti Records has released a remastered High along with several bonus tracks, completing their Blue Nile reissue project. The timing is good, if odd: in these quiet, hot summer days, whether locked down alone in a stuffy apartment, sanitizing tables in a half-empty restaurant, or laboring in a crowded grocery store, a smile pasted on to cover existential terror, High lands as a calming, cooling tonic.

The remaster itself is largely undetectable in digital format. Side-by-side plays of 2004 and 2020 digital releases sound near-identical save for an occasional injection of crispness to the new version; this is a remaster for vinyl, it seems, not a major re-engineering or new mix. That said, under the deft hand of original engineer Calum Malcolm, High is as clear and bright as ever, the punchy lines of standout track “She Saw the World,” every bit as contagious and irresistible.

With the first suspended chords of the title track, we could almost be hearing “Happiness” off of Peace at Last — except that here keyboards replace guitar, and the mood is entirely different. “Happiness” observed the fleeting nature of joy, and pulsed with the fear of its loss. The tone on “High” is that of wistful yearning for the better world that could be realized with just a change in attitude. “In the bowling alleys/ In the morning papers/ Something good got lost along the way/ We could be high….” The lyric seems uncannily apropos today.

Lyrics, however, are not always singer and songwriter Paul Buchanan’s strongest point. “Soul Boy” is a compelling saunter, its delicately employed guitar riff and sizzly percussion set off by Buchanan’s softest tenor, but the words — e.g. “And I just want to be loved by you/ And when I’m really loved by you/ I’ll be your soul boy” — aren’t worthy of the music.

Buchanan’s life had changed considerably between Peace at Last and the release of High. Work on High took years. Reportedly, Buchanan contracted a form of chronic fatigue syndrome that impacted his ability to work for several of those years. Band management changes and challenges with intra-band communications may also have left their mark. Whatever the reason for the shift in lyric direction and the reprise of Blue Nile’s original sound, one thing remained constant: Buchanan’s vocals, as aching and sweet as ever. His voice haunts the meditative “Because of Toledo,” where the instrumentation shows High didn’t abandon guitar completely after Peace at Last.

The reissue of High includes six bonus tracks, four of which were previously unreleased. While none of these rivals the album tracks, they aren’t throwaways, either. The lovely “Wasted” has a pulsating drum machine track that feels like quintessential Blue Nile, and only suffers from being stretched to nearly six minutes — a radio edit would have been a wiser choice here. “Big Town” has a misfit Afro-electric beat that is nonetheless an entertaining change. The surprising treat on the bonus disc is the remix of “The Days of Our Lives.” Cast against a ping-pong-bass percussion track and with nearly every chord altered, the song carries an entirely different mood in its remixed form, mining deep tragedy and desperation from the same song whose original, leading off the album, sounded sad but determined. It showcases the power of a remix, and is a worthwhile new perspective. The remaining new tracks, a remix of “She Saw the World,” “Here Come the Bluebirds,” and “i” are, if not revelatory, nonetheless listenable.

The original album ended with “Stay Close,” a smooth number vaguely reminiscent of Hats’ “Let’s Go Out Tonight” and a satisfying finish to this polished album. That theme of wistful yearning is focused here: “Blowing down the street/ To see you one more time/ Is the world still at your feet?/ Did you let somebody love you?/ One day you’ll feel the way I feel/ Soon you will go your own way/ Stay close to me.” By all indications, High is the last of the Blue Nile that we’ll get to hear, and, if it’s not quite Hats or Across the Rooftops, it’s still an album to reckon with. One that leaves us understanding that life moves on and bands go their own way — but still feeling a little of that wistful yearning.

If it’s not quite Hats, High still an album to reckon with.
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