The Album Collection – #2: 2012, Paul Buchanan, Mid Air

by Charlie_East_West on March 28, 2013

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The Blue Nile, in my own little league table of brilliant things, ranks pretty damn near the top of my own pantheon. A Walk Across The Rooftops and Hats are two of the finest albums not just out of Scotland, but out of Planet Earth itself. If the masters of the universe suddenly decided to have a Planetvision Song Contest, and I was charged with rustling up a shortlisting of tracks for the competition, then songs such as Headlights On The Parade, Downtown Lights, Tinseltown In The Rain and Saturday Night would be worthy contenders to represent our planet against the rest of the universe.

Paul Buchanan, the singer songwriter of the Blue Nile, reappeared after an eight year hiatus in 2012 with his solo release of Mid Air. I was concerned about the passage of time, and whether Buchanan still had what it takes. Did he still have that mournful voice passing over some of the most heartbreaking lyrics you will ever hear in your life? The answer was a big fat resounding yes. Mid Air is quite simply a beautiful album. It’s beauty lies in its simplicity of arrangement, and its complexity of lyrical content.

Every song feels stripped back in terms of arrangement and tone. Most of the songs run in at a brisk 2.30 minutes, but, this ain’t no throwaway pop. This is a record that urges you to stop what you are doing, preferably in the evening, under the cloak of darkness, whilst slowly manoeuvring yourself towards a quiet place to just listen – preferably with a stiff drink of whisky.

The album is a wistful and touching reflection on loss. It laments how relationships in life end, and a reflection on the end of life itself. But before you decided to reload the revolver, these tracks are life affirming things of beauty. They offer hope in the face of screaming despair. After listening to the whole album in one sitting I still couldn’t work out whether the whisky glass was half empty or half full.

But ultimately, the key to all of the 14 songs on Mid Air, is the power of Buchanan’s vocal range, which is pitched at exactly the correct moment in each composition. Buchanan slowly begins a strange metamorphosis to becoming Scotland’s answer to Johnny Cash or Frank Sinatra, but in a good way – in terms of romantic melancholy, poignant phrasing, and vocals at exactly the right moment. This is clearly shown in bittersweet songs like Half The World, After Dark, Mid Air and on Wedding Party where Buchanan laments in his own regretful, yet, elegant masculinity:-

“Its a good day, for a landslide
There are tears in the car park outside
A long walk in the long grass
We were lost under glittering skies

Are you trying to tell me what I already know?
Let me go

Tear stains on your pillow
I was drunk when I danced with the bride

Let it go
Let it go”

On My True Country, Buchanan reflect on his past, and his Scottish heritage with simple words, yet sung with powerful effect. You have to listen to the song to fully understand what I am havering on about here. You have to be there to get it. The whole thing sounds like the poetry and prose of Norman MacCaig wrapped up in a song:-

“My true country wild and free,
My true country you and me,
Pushing horses in the snow,
Children wearing Sunday clothes.

Dance along the edge with me,
And we’ll go as far as we can see.

My true country wild and free,
My true country waiting there for me.”

The album feels is if Buchanan is in mourning for a place, a time, a person and himself. It is truly heartbreaking. It is truly magnificent.

Paul Buchanan has given me another set of songs to throw at the masters of the universe.

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