THE BLUE NILE A Walk Across The Rooftops
1 A Walk Across The Rooftops 4:54
2 Tinseltown In The Rain 5:53 (UK single, #87)
3 From Rags To Riches 5:59
4 Stay 4:55 (UK single, #97)
5 Easter Parade 4:29
6 Heatwave 6:26
7 Automobile Noise 5:08
My favourite band since 1989, The Blue Nile’s first album appeared some five years earlier in the late Spring of 1984, when Frankie Goes To Hollywood were about to unleash Two Tribes, Duran Duran were at #1 with The Reflex, The Human League had just returned with The Lebanon, and the LP that I was most anticipating was Mange Tout by Blancmange.
The music video for “Stay” had been shown on Saturday Superstore, as I recall; a minimal effort with young architect types in suits wandering around a modern-looking house. Nothing that really screamed out as demanding my unwavering devotion. Likewise, the second 45 Tinseltown In The Rain, despite being championed by Radio 1 DJ Mike Read amongst others, only crawled into my personal Top 30 later that summer.
Amazing as it seems to me now, given my passion for everything they do, I can only proffer a lack of repeated airplay/exposure or perhaps my young age at the time, for this lack of significant interest.
No, it would take the events of 1989 and the Hats album to send me scurrying backwards to try and discover this lost masterpiece (of course, now it can be had on CD for 2.99!) and my relationship with A Walk Across The Rooftops begins there.
The most striking thing is how low-fi it sounds, compared to Hats and their later work. This is a double-edged sword, as while the arrangements and instrumentation are a lot less polished and don’t quite present Paul Buchanan’s vocals with the cinematic grandeur his vocals deserve, there is a greater sense of ambience and “otherness” about the first album. Tinseltown is the closest they get to the sonic perfection of Hats, and even in the climate of 1984 chart pop it’s a wonder how it wasn’t a minor Top 75 hit at the very least. Stay always felt a little too slight to make an impact, although a later remix (included on the 2CD Deluxe Edition in 2012) gave it more substance.
Opening with the barely audible strains of the title song was a bold move, as a lone, intermittent snare drum eventually finds accompaniment from a wondrously fluid bassline, and then the outline of the stop-start song slowly takes shape. Automobile Noise is another track which bases itself on an assortment of clattering, minimal percussion and a range of found sounds; a lovely, stately closer that makes you feel you are actually in the middle of slow-moving traffic on a rainy evening.
Heatwave is, if you’ll excuse the pun, a slow burner constructed around the most delicate of guitar melodies, and a song which has become a fan favourite over the years. Buchanan’s patented yearning, aching delivery is already here in its full beauty, freed from some of the more awkward stylings required on From Rags To Riches or the title cut. The former has always been my least-loved Blue Nile moment, an experimental, almost Peter Gabriel-esque workout which never really gets anywhere and fails to find a tune in the process.
Another Blue Nile trademark established from the outset was the mournful, piano-and-ambient-noodling ballad, here in the form of Easter Parade. It’s a Vettriano painting set to music, lyrics focusing on the small details of everyday life, and is possibly where the title of album #2 comes from (“throwing hats up in the air”).
Aside from some of the primitive technology used, A Walk Across The Rooftops is an ageless record, and one whose beauty has not diminished over time. A couple of the tracks are rough around the edges, and the songwriting hasn’t quite reached the sublime heights of Hats or Peace At Last, but four nailed-on classics among the 7 songs on your debut album isn’t bad going.