The Blue Nile
A Walk Across the Rooftops (Linn Records)
It's usually the case that record companies make records. Scottish band the Blue Nile's debut recording, however, led to the creation of a record company.
Cutting a long story short: in the early 1980s, sound engineers at Scottish hi-fi manufacturer Linn Products were testing the Sondek LP12 turntable, and became frustrated with the poor quality of test discs at their disposal. To remedy the problem, they began work on a cutting lathe using a fresh demo track - a song called A Walk Across the Rooftops commissioned by Linn from the struggling Glasgow-based trio.
Impressed with the result, Linn bankrolled the recording of further tracks and established its own label Linn Records. It released the Blue Nile's first album, also titled A Walk Across the Rooftops, soon after.
Considering the original purpose of the recording was to demonstrate the sonic fidelity and versatility of Linn's products, production values on the record are extremely high, and its song structures are intentionally peculiar. Characterised by a clinical control-freakishness rarely exhibited in contemporary music, A Walk Across the Rooftops is an album that might have been created under laboratory conditions by men in white coats.
Vocals, keyboards, percussion (pre-programmed LinnDrums), guitars, bass, and string and horn sections all make appearances, but frequently alone and starkly in order to exhibit the dynamic range and clarity of Linn's state-of-the-art recording technology.
There is extensive use of empty space to demonstrate absence of background noise and hiss. On occasion, all instruments are smashed together in huge and luscious symphonic bursts. The result is difficult to pigeonhole.
Though the British charts at the time had long been awash with synth-pop acts like Thomas Dolby, Tears for Fears and Howard Jones, and the Blue Nile's broad use of synthesisers sometimes sees them placed in the same bubblegum camp, singer Paul Buchanan's emotive and world-weary voice has more in common with a post-breakup Frank Sinatra than with a young pretty boy jigging under a statement haircut at his keyboard.
From the austere title track to the solemn Easter Parade to the atmospheric Automobile Noise, song tempos are slow and deliberate, and occasionally funereal, and the resulting whole is rich in mood, more than a little melancholy, with a great deal of pragmatic intelligence.