All is Not Sweetness and Light Along the Nile

When you hear Paul Buchanan, at the very start of Peace at Last, quietly counting himself in, plucking at his acoustic guitar and tapping his foot, the overriding mood of the first Blue Nile album in seven years is being signalled: lightness, optim

ism and, yes, happiness.

Those people expecting Hats II (for my money, Hats is one of the greatest albums ever made), with it's deeply atmospheric and intense songs, will find the themes and the sound of Peace at Last a little surprising. They may even feel

a twinge of disappointment at the changes in sound and content. But don't be fooled; these are songs which grow with every play, slowly

permeating the soul, until you find that they've become a part of you, and that you're cherishing them in the same way as those on A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats.

The use of acoustic guitar is more marked than on Rooftops or Hats, driving many of the songs along at a fair clip, and is a welcome enhancement to the band's more traditional, synthesised sound. There are surprises here, too: the church ch

oir at the close of "Happiness," and the surreal and somehow disturbing "Holy Love" (with it's falsetto vocal, sampled Gregorian chanting and funk bass lines). In the lyrics, Buchanan frequently employs religious imagery, invoking Jesus, the Saviour, ang

els and prayers, suggesting that he's perhaps sensing his own mortality, that he wants to experience everything now, before his time runs out.

Opening the album with a clipped acoustic guitar and a familiar synthesiser backdrop, Happiness has Buchanan asking Jesus if the peace he's found, the contentedness and the sharing ("the cigarettes, the morning light"), will last. But, he declares

, "it's only love," bravely trying to ready himself for the inevitable. Only the choir at the end somehow brings a sense that maybe everything will be alright; that whatever we're given, we'll make do, we'll be happy.

"Tomorrow Morning," quietly redolant of Tunnel of Love Springsteen, positively skips along to a bright acoustic strum. Buchanan sings "we could be laughing/we could be married/tomorrow morning," wanting to seize The Moment and revel in all its pos

sibilities, lest it slip away to be long regretted. The song comes to represent the pervading mood of the album, to the point where he's enjoying himself so much he starts improvising, shouting "c'mon girl!" and "heh!" and clapping, losing himself in the

hypnotic thrum of the song.

And that mood continues on "Sentimental Man," with synthesised stabs of brass and shiny-bright guitar and strings pushing the song along. "It's not about money/It's not about love/It's not about the stars above," he tries to explain, asking his partner to

bear with him as he tentatively comes to grip with his feelings. It's one of the most direct and straightforward songs Buchanan has yet written, and becomes one of the album's highlights.

"Love Came Down" and "Body & Soul" also enjoy this buoyant sound, with insistent acoustic guitars, echoing the insistent sentiments of the lyrics, again dealing with the positive rather than the negative side of love. There are nice touches here, too:

the instrumental fade-out of "Love Came Down," the three-note trumpet lead-in and falsetto lift of "Body & Soul"'s

chorus.

On the whole, then, it would seem that the trio have "loosened up" and tried to steer away from making an album which is too portentous, too serious. Where before songs were claustrophobic, melancholic and at times hypnotically slow, these are light, airy

, postitive and vigorous.

All is not sweetness and light, however. "Family Life" is possibly the most heart-wrenching song Buchanan has yet written. With Moore's sparse piano, Buchanan's hushed singing, and a full string section, it's the story of a man separated from his family

at Christmas, wishing he could make everything right again. When he sings "Starlight do you know me?/Please don't look at me now/I'm falling apart," the pain of all the failed love affairs comes flooding back and Buchanan has, once again, communicated th

ose feelings perfectly in just a few simple words.

"War is Love" has Buchanan proclaiming just that, over strings, piano and, again, that acoustic guitar. It's the weakest song here, lacking the depth of the others and becoming a little repetitive. "God Bless You Kid" is, it would seem, a paean to the i

nnocence and value of childhood, with lots of synthesisers, some dirty(ish) guitar and ending with some shameless wah-wah.

The album closes with "Soon," a slow-soul-love-song, complete with organ, washes & stabs of synthesised brass, lots of strings and Buchanan slipping in and out of a crooning falsetto. The song boasts some gorgeous chord and melody changes, along with the

beautifully romantic couplet, "When you comb your hair/I'll be standing there."

That Peace at Last took seven years to arrive underlines the sincerity, pride, and love with which The Blue Nile make their music. These days, so many records are released which really shouldn't be; they're merely tossed-off efforts which play to

the vagaries of the current "fashion" in music. It's not really the way it should be. Records should have a necessity about them. Thankfully, it would seem, The Blue Nile feel the same way. And if seven years is what it takes to come up with music as

timeless and as beautiful as this, then that's just fine; we don't mind waiting at all.

In an article I once read, Buchanan was quoted as saying something along the old cliched lines of "we're making music we like, and if anyone else likes it, then that's just an added bonus." Well, thank goodness they continue to make it, and that they cho

ose to share it with us.