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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Blue Nile, "A Walk Across The Rooftops"

The Blue Nile
"A Walk Across The Rooftops"
Linn (1983)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

The phenomena of a commercial’s star finding success as a result of their advertising stint are not infrequent. The odds of that success being a lasting one are bad, however. Just look at the Geico cavemen. The Blue Nile is a different story altogether.

The Scottish band, which was an on-again, off again project at the time, was invited by the recording equipment company Linn to produce a song to highlight the company’s advanced technology. That song was “A Walk Across The Rooftops,” and the company was so chuffed with the result that it formed a record label and put aside funds for The Blue Nile to record an entire album, which would result in its debut, which shared the same title as its first track.

Linn couldn’t have chosen a better band to highlight its recording capabilities. Layering and stacking instruments was not a new concept in 1983, but finding artists that could do so in a successful way was, and still is, a challenge. The song “A Walk Across The Rooftops” is a great success where many other artists stumble.

The first problem plaguing many layered recordings is that there are a great range of instruments, which are so dense that they distract from each other (I’ve made this complaint against Surfjan Stevens’ latest, although I’ve found many disagree with me). In this song and album, every instrument has room to breathe and be a star. Within the opening track, an unusual combination of multiple violins, piano, and the popping of a bass guitar get equal face time, and each sounds clear and individual from its cohorts.

Even if musicians can manage to keep the music from distracting from itself, using such a variety of instruments while allowing the vocals to maintain the spotlight is just as difficult. The Blue Nile's instrumental approach is never very dense, no matter how many instruments it uses, allowing guitarist/vocalist Paul Buchanan to stand out. He sounds like a toned-down Bono, and his intelligent musings on love and life are just as interesting as the music backing it.

Although there are some synthesizers that occasionally come into play, The Blue Nile is at its best when using traditional instrumentation, and just using the synths for added ambience. In the last 27 years, the group has only released four albums, each critically lauded. As the instrumentals of the band will affirm, sometimes less is more.

INTERESTING FACT: The Blue Nile, which snakes through Ethiopia and Sudan, is a tributary to the Nile. As the book of Genesis describes a river flowing out of Eden and surrounding Cush (modern Ethiopia), many Ethiopian Christians believe it to be the Blue Nile.

A Walk Across The Rooftops by The Blue Nile on Grooveshark

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