Popdose Flashback '90

The Blue Nile - Hats1990 was a watershed year for me. In January, I moved back to New Jersey, and stayed with a friend until I could move into a new apartment. I had been living in Florida for about 18 months. I was sent there by the company I worked for, and while I was there my heart was broken in the most ill-advised romance of my life. I tried to flee Florida, but then an automobile accident complicated things. I was unable to work for awhile and had to move in with my parents. My lawsuit was finally settled in December, and I quickly got back to where I once belonged.

I was happy to be back in New Jersey, but my heart was still hurting. That’s where Hats enters the story. The album, more than nearly any other, came into my life at exactly the right time, and captured my mood perfectly. Hats is a nighttime album, as indicated by song titles like “The Downtown Lights,” “Let’s Go Out Tonight,” “From a Late Night Train,” “Saturday Night,” and “Headlights On Parade.” It’s an album that manages to be, all at once, bitterly sad, and warmly comforting. More than anything, it’s the sound of one lonely man, in this case the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, pouring out his soul. I was wallowing, and Hats was the perfect soundtrack to my misery. Emotions aside, there is simply no denying that Hats is one of the great pop albums of its, or any, time.

The Blue Nile is a Scottish band that has released only four albums over the course of a career that has lasted nearly 30 years. Hats was their second. It was released on January 30, 1990 in the U.S. The sound is electronic, synthesizers, drum machines, and percussion, but rarely have machines achieved the sort of warmth that is in evidence on Hats. Buchanan wrote and sang all the songs. Most people regard the album as the Blue Nile’s greatest achievement.

The best thing about writing a column like this one, or my bi-weekly Cratedigger, is that it gives me a chance to go back and listen to albums that are important to me, but that I may not have heard for some time. What is gratifying is that I often find that these albums are classics to me for a reason. They hold up over time, whether it’s 20 years, or 50. Hats is no exception. Though it could be said to have a very ’80s sound, there’s something so tastefully timeless about the way it sounds that it could have come from nearly any era, including the present one. A fresh listen also reveals the enormous influence that the Blue Nile has had on future generations.

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About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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