Friday, February 08, 2013


Those of us who came of age in the 1980s will get this song.

Remember the clothes? Remember the hair? Most of all, remember the raw, untrammelled consumerism? Everyone had a shiny new stereo that played those new-fangled Compact Discs, proudly displayed on a chrome and glass table at one end of the room. At parties, we'd stand exactly half-way between the speakers and listen to the awesome sound quality. No hisses, no crackles, no hums or loss of tone. Just pure sound. It was like a living breathing advertisement for Maxell cassette tapes, except that the technology had moved on and cassettes were, like, ancient.

The 1980s were all about technology and economies of scale, about the triumph of science and design over the natural chaos of life and bringing it within the reach of the majority of the population. Not only did the boffins start churning out pieces of kit that made life easier, cleaner, more convenient and portable, but we all suddenly had enough money to buy the stuff.

The Blue Nile were the perfect 80s group. Obsessively clean sound, perfectly separated instruments, a triumph of the mechanistic New Age over the organic messiness of the analogue era. They could be "consumed" without getting dirty, and they could be admired in an objective, scientific kind of way. It's no accident that they got their start when a hi-fi manufacturer was looking for a sound that would show off their high-end stereo systems.

But it wasn't as if we hadn't had this kind of music before. After all, Kraftwerk had been calling to us from across the digital divide for some years already, but maybe we didn't trust something that was quite so devoid of emotion. Pink Floyd and the Beatles had already toyed with various proto-gizmos that produced beeps and burbles. The Blue Nile's success was to marry real feelings to their transistors and their sampling. Paul Buchanan's voice manages to convey pain, suffering and hope, all in a slightly fey, whimsical croon that calls to mind Belle & Sebastian and the Dream Academy. (Side-note: why is it that the British do fey and whimsy better than anyone else? And, more to the point, does anyone else actually *do* fey and whimsy?)

What I enjoy almost as much as the song, and especially the voice, is the cringe-worthy video which really epitomises 1980s ambition and aspiration. The baggy trousers and shirts, the clean-cut look... all that's missing is a VW Golf Mark I and an early mobile phone.

For all that, it's a wonderful song. Can you imagine how good it would sound, played on real instruments?


Russell Duffy said...

When I first saw the title it made me think of Bowie’s classic song from the equally classic album, ‘Station to Station.’ I’d like to think I knew a thing or two about music, I mean I used to have more than 1,000 albums and gods knows how many singles. I was wrong about the song but more alarmingly way off beam with the band Blue Nile. I thought they were a nineties band. I had, much to my shame, no idea they were one of those techno type bands from the much maligned eighties.
I have to say I like the eighties. A decade often decried by muso’s and the intelligentsia but what the hell do they and who cares anyway?
As for us Brits doing fey better than anyone else, I think you are right. It strikes me as being a little like Siegfried Sassoon, rather detached from it all while still observing with a despairing eye.
This is another fine article. I am so glad you are keeping it up so to speak.

Uncle E said...

Great post, yet again. I do love The Blue Nile albums, few of them that there are, but I have to say for pure sonic 80's delights I find Prefab Sprout albums the finest, especially Steve McQueen. The 'Nile comes in a close second...