The Blue Nile “Hats”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#447 in the Series) is The Blue Nile, Hats

Walk into your local record store (a crazy, outdated notion, I know), search for a Blue Nile album and you’ll be directed to the Rock/Pop section which seems just wrong somehow. It’s a category that simply doesn’t feel right when applied to this band. They really should be filed under………well, I don’t know. Nothing seems right. What’s really needed for this album is a whole new category. “Emotional Beauty” maybe? Alongside “Astral Weeks” and the Nick Drake albums?

What I do know is this: Hats is one of the most utterly gorgeous, late-night, heart stopping albums ever made.

For many it had come from nowhere. The Blue Nile had released only one album (A Walk Across The Rooftops) previously and that had been 5 long years before, any momentum they had built with the album and two glorious singles from it (“Stay” and the stupendous “Tinseltown In The Rain”) had long since disappeared. A few devotees kept the faith however and were rewarded in fine style when finally, after much honing and revision, the band released Hats in 1989. To this day in fact, the band are hardly prolific, they’ve managed a grand total of four albums in 28 years! What they lack in urgency however they make up for in consistency, those four albums barely have a bad track on them, and all are worth seeking out. This is where you should start though………

It’s an evocative album, moody and enigmatic, the sound of love, loss and longing on the rain and wind swept streets of the city, mostly after dark. That’s the feeling conjured up using sparse synths and drum machines, it’s like an update of those old “Late night/early morning, my baby’s left me” albums that Sinatra did so well. It’s a sonic template that has served them well, worked here to perfection.

Singer and writer of all the songs here, Paul Buchanan, says that they were written in various locations at various times but you’d be hard pushed to convince the bands die-hard local fans of that, so synonymous with The Blue Nile’s home city of Glasgow have they become. Naming one of them “Headlights On The Parade” certainly didn’t help, Alexandra Parade being one of the city’s most famous streets. For me the two (band and city) just cannot be separated. Take a walk through the place on a wet Saturday night, neon reflecting in the puddles, all of life’s hopes, dreams and possibilities laid out before you………that’s what “Hats” sounds like.

The music and the atmosphere is only part of the story, of course.

Paul Buchanan’s voice is simply unbelievable. He croons, he soars, and he draws on every emotion, singing from the heart. It seems like he’s waited his whole life to get to these songs and the sheer passion he puts into every performance is triumphant.

I’ve heard practically every band to come out of Glasgow in the last 30 years and, without doubt, the Blue Nile are the ones who best capture the ambience of the place, whether intentionally or not.

Well, enough’s enough. I’ve tried to describe the mood and the sound of this album but words can’t really do that can they, you have to hear it. Maybe the song titles themselves can tell you what it’s like; “The Downtown Lights”, “From A Late Night Train”, ‘The Downtown Lights”.

It’s all there. All you have to do is be willing to let it into your life………….

— Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland

Track listing

All songs written by Paul Buchanan

  1. “Over the Hillside” – 5:05
  2. “The Downtown Lights” – 6:29
  3. “Let’s Go Out Tonight” – 5:16
  4. “Headlights on the Parade” – 6:16
  5. “From a Late Night Train” – 4:01
  6. “Seven A.M.” – 5:09
  7. “Saturday Night” – 6:27


  • Robert Bell – Bass, Synthesizer
  • Paul Buchanan – Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizer
  • Paul Joseph Moore – Keyboards, Synthesizer


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Posted by Larry Carta

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