The Blue Nile - Peace At Last
Every so often you hear an album that forces you to question all that you have been listening to to date. Be it Loveless, House Tornado, Quadrophenia or The Colour Of Spring, there are a small number of albums that make you feel you've been wasting both time and money in pursuing workaday releases by jobbing musicians. Peace At Last is one such album, reveling in the finding of both love and happiness whilst revealing a small sense of the simple truths in keeping such feelings alive. It also caps previous years with a sense of finding, as the title makes clear, peace at last, closing one era in Paul Buchanan's life before he leaves to open another.
Few bands ever formally close one part of their lives, or their entire careers, with such a clear sign of things having been resolved as this. Indeed, few artists ever make it clear that life has moved forward from the songs they debuted with and that, despite seeing thirty, forty and even fifty come and go, life continues with broken hearts, hangovers and teenage fumbling outside nightclubs. But there are exceptions - The Eagles said farewell to both their career and to one another with The Long Run, whilst Morrissey used Strangeways, Here We Come to write of the history and breakup of not only The Smiths but also his relationship with Johnny Marr. With Peace At Last, The Blue Nile have closed off the eleven years it has taken to go from their debut and through the release of Hats to release that rare type of album - one that shows maturity and, in place of trying to find love, the story of a relationship once love has been found.
Peace At Last opens with the words, "Now that I've found peace at last, tell me Jesus, will it last?" and, Happiness, the song that contains those words, moves from a gentle acoustic opening to a full gospel choir urging Paul Buchanan to consider how happiness, which had once eluded him, was now found. Happiness is a quite remarkable opening song and, in the way it unexpectedly engages the listener from its opening few seconds, is the equivalent of the sun splitting the clouds after torrential rain. From there and through songs such as Sentimental Man, Love Came Down, Family Life and God Bless You Kid, Peace At Last offers the view that despite the storms that were brewing before, everything is now alright and the lyrics that suggest contentedness is now, at last, being enjoyed.
Musically, Peace At Last is remarkable with no note, voice or instrument sounding out of place. Those who have discovered Talk Talk's later albums, including The Colour Of Spring and Spirit Of Eden, will already be aware of how each moment in music can move alongside the lyrics with one reflecting the spirit of the other, second by second and Peace Of Last is able to stand with those wonderful recordings. On Family Life, for example, Paul Buchanan opens the song with a gentle piano underneath his own singing before stepping back, at thirty seconds in, to allow the song to be accompanied by violin and cello. At 3m18s, the playing of individual notes on the piano drops an octave and pulls together into rolling chords, building to a crescendo before fading away to silence. Even as the song closes, The Blue Nile offer just the right amount of time to let it end before allowing the synthesisers that open War Is Love to enter, which is all that can be said about Peace At Last - everything just feels right.
Stylistically, The Blue Nile, being of that generation of eighties Scottish bands that also included Hipsway, Love & Money and Deacon Blue, mix acoustic folk, synthesisers and choppy guitars showing a little white-boy funk. Unlike those bands, however, there is a grace that sweeps throughout each song and a daring sense of adventure close to how Talk Talk moved from the pop of their early recordings to the avant-garde of their latter. Compared to the sort-of-pop/rock offered by Love & Money, there's never a moment when you, as the listener, ever sense how you could make Peace At Last better and that is the mark of greatness. Listen to Pet Sounds, Miss America, There's A Riot Goin' On or Exile On Main St. and try to think of any way to make them better. Most of us will be baffled as to how such albums got to be so good in the first place without thinking of how to improve them and Peace At Last is so much the same.
Even in only listening to Peace At Last in terms of the quality of the recording, it does sound absurdly good with so much depth and clarity in the recording that conversation stopped when it was played in company just to hear it. And that's coming from someone who is unrepentantly awkward about hi-fi and audio geekery be it on CD, DVD or MP3.
When this album was first released, it was difficult to imagine how any one recording was capable of being as good as the reviews suggested and, whilst many would feel that Peace At Last does not live up to its reputation, it is an arresting record from its opening seconds through to the brass and supple bass that ends it. Between those moments, this is a great album but, like so many of the other albums mentioned in this review, it hasn't been heard by anywhere near enough people as it deserves to be. You can change that and it starts with buying all of them, which includes Peace At Last.