Thursday, 22 November 2012

"A Walk Across The Rooftops" by THE BLUE NILE (2012 Virgin/Linn 'Deluxe Edition' 2CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"...Ocean's Deep..."

I was quite literally trembling with excitement as I ripped the shrinkwrap off this reissue. I've loved Scotland's BLUE NILE for decades now (saw them live 3 times - religious experiences all of them) - and 'Remasters' of their first two masterpieces is enough to make me animated in the trouser area. But typical of Virgin's supposed 'DELUXE EDITIONS' (the useless reissue of Peter Gabriel's "So" jumps to mind) - it's a case of the sublime and seriously missed chances. Here are the finite details...

Released Monday 19 November 2012 in the UK - "A Walk Across The Rooftops" by THE BLUE NILE on Virgin/Linn Records LKHCDR 1 (5099901730326) is a 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' Remaster and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (38:04 minutes):
1. A Walk Across The Rooftops
2. Tinseltown In The Rain
3. From Rags To Riches
4. Stay [Side 2]
5. Easter Parade
6. Heatwave
7. Automobile Noise
Tracks 1 to 7 are their debut album "A Walk Across The Rooftops" - released April 1984 on LP in the UK on Linn Records LKH 1. It was first issued on CD in mid-1989 with a page inlay and not great sound. This is the first remaster of the album - handled by Calum Malcolm (a member of the original line-up and long-time Producer for the group) along with Band members Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell (US customers should use the barcode number provided above to get the right issue when searching on Amazon.com).

The remaster is breathtaking. The danger would have been to amp everything up - but it's not like that. It's subtle, clean and beautifully realized. You may still have to crank the volume knob a bit - but the sonic clarity on every song is 'so' good. Linn were a high-end turntable manufacturer (still are) and the album was their first - used almost as an example of sonic greatness. That initial production has stood the album well. From the moment "A Walk Across The Rooftops" fades in with synths to when it opens up with that bass in the background - is just incredible. "From Rags To Riches" completely comes alive and "Automobile Noise" sounds newly minted. "Heatwave" is fantastic - full of detail - the differing instruments suddenly in your speakers. And I've waited over 20 years to hear the sublime electro-funk of "Stay" in proper audiophile quality - so I'll confess to some pogo-shapes being thrown in my home as I listened to it. But the peach on here is "Easter Parade" which is now HUGE but in an opened-up way. Superbly done. In fact the album stills sound strangely other-worldly - but in a luscious way. What a starting point (and their follow-up "Hats" would only trump it ten-fold).

I wish I could be so enthusiastic about the packaging and the bonus disc. The minimalist gatefold card digipak is pretty for sure - but the 12-page booklet is a joke. There's 10-pages filled with a singular photo on each (none any use nor explained). There's no history - no liner notes - no lyrics - no input from the band - not even any real info on the 'bonus' stuff. It has more than a feel of what you can get away with rather than an appreciation of a masterpiece. Nothing under the see-through CD trays either. Which brings us to the 'bonus disc'...

Disc 2 (32:58 minutes):
Tracks 1 and 5 "I Love This Life" and "The Second Act" are the A & B-sides of their debut 7" single on RSO Records RSO 84 released in October 1981. They were first made digitally available on the "I Would Never" CD single in August 2004 on Sanctuary Records (a track lifted off the "High" album) - but the sound quality wasn't the greatest. Here they're fully remastered and even though "The Second Act" is hissier than the A - the sonic improvement on both is very real (both tracks have been sought after for years by Electro-Pop fans).

Track 3 is "St. Catherine's Day". Starved of anything new for nearly 3 decades - Blue Nile fans will flip for this lone previously unreleased song. Feeling a lot like an outtake from 1989's "Hats" 5 years later - there's no annotation as to where it came from or why it sounds so fully-formed now. But I will say that it's been worth the wait because it's beautiful in that plaintive melancholic Blue Nile way. It's a genuine nugget on here and easily worth the price of entry alone (lyrics from it title this review). There are times when I just can't stop playing this...

Track 7 is "Regret" - it originally turned up as a UK non-album B-side to the 12" single of the "Tinseltown In The Rain" from 1984 on Linn Records LKS 2-12. It's only LP/CD appearance to my knowledge was on the 1991 compilation called "The Tree And The Bird And The Fish And The Bell - Glasgow Songs By Glasgow Artists" which in itself has been hard to get for years. It's a truly gorgeous song and brill to now hear it remastered to perfection (see PS below regarding a tie-in).

Which leaves us with the absences and seemingly 'new' inclusions. Exclusions first - fans will be gutted to see that "Saddle The Horses" (a non-album B-side to "Stay" in 1984) is missing - still unavailable on CD anywhere. Where's "Easter Parade" recorded with Rickie Lee Jones during the "Hats" period? Worse is the AWOL status of "Heatwave (Instrumental)" and the stunning 'Extended Remix' of "Stay" when it was reissued in 1989. That version beefed up the acoustic and electric guitars to incredible effect and has been one of my favourite 12" singles in the world ever since - and it isn't bloody on here!

For the life of me I can't find the three versions offered here anywhere in the band's Discography - and though not stated as 'new' - typically they're a very mixed bag. The "Mix" of "Tinseltown In The Rain" (Track 4) runs to 6:31 minutes - a full half-minute longer than any other previous version and is the best of the three here (you have to love Virgin who would call a track "Mix" and leave no other info about it). The "Little Mix" of "Stay" (Track 6) at 3:34 minutes is not great - while the "Rhythm Mix" of "Heatwave" (Track 2) at 5:50 minutes is too busy with distorted guitars ruining its original vibe. These are personal opinions of course - others may love them - but for me it's grating to know that there are released vinyl versions out there which are far better and should have been included here. It also doesn't take a Mensa member to work out that the playing times of both discs could have been amalgamated into one (with more added on too) - and the second disc could have been a DVD featuring those rare early videos. But alas...

To sum up - the remaster of the original album is an absolute triumph - 10 out of 10 - but the side is let down by the bare-knuckles packaging and those sloppy omissions on Disc 2 (docked a star for that).

PS: In September 2012 - I reviewed the BLU RAY reissue of Paul Greengrass' magnificent 9/11 movie - "United 93". In the review I mention a YouTube video apparently collated and posted by a fan who wanted to say something about the atrocity on its 10th Anniversary. The video uses "Regret" by THE BLUE NILE played against a backdrop of black and white images from that tragic event. Recorded years before in a country some 6000 miles away (and of course about something entirely different) the song somehow fits perfectly - both musically and lyrically. I urge you to check it out on YouTube. More to the point (and I'll openly admit to this) - it moved me to tears - as did the best bits of this reissue...

PPS: see also my review for the 2CD reissues of "Hats" and "Peace At Last"

1 comment:

typeo said...

I bought the LP version of the reissue. Was pretty impressed with the sound quality of that. Some remastered CD's seem to appear as if the artists had no input resulting in the same packing being pushed out and no extra background on the release, opportunity missed! Still would rather they concentrated on the sound quality than extras, unlike say Paul Simon's Graceland remaster which has had the usual "brashness" treatment.

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