Hats: A Soundtrack for Late Nights
Written by Emily O'Brien on October 25, 2022
Disguised as adult contemporary, better defined as sophisti-pop, The Blue Nile’s Hats is a synth-infused testament to hopeless romanticism and late night rides through the city in the back of taxicabs. Lushly and meticulously produced, each song is exactly what it needs to be. This is the kind of desperate heartache you can only find in late 80s synth pop. This is voluntary solitude slipping now and again into a genuine feeling of isolation. This is an album you’ll want to drown in.
Before its release in 1989, the sophomore album spent three lonely years in a gestation period the band spent in a studio in a small town in northern Scotland. Songs were started, scrapped, and abandoned; the band itself faced tension brought about by homesickness and exhaustion. The Blue Nile eventually returned to their home in Glasgow, and from there, Hats suddenly burst forth almost fully formed.
The standout song is undeniably track two, “The Downtown Lights.” The six-and-a-half minute spear to the heart works as the thesis of the album, cinematically illustrating just how lonely a night spent in a brightly lit city can be. Even though people pass you by on the rain-soaked sidewalks, and someone spreads out in their seat in the next booth over, you’re still alone. The lyrics weave themselves into the melody, building gradually until singer Paul Buchanan lets out the devastating howl, “I’M TIRED OF CRYING ON THESE STAIRS.”
The rest of the songs tend to be somewhat more subdued, but each paints a similar story. Each song is a thoughtfully laid out composition to contain utterly desperate and intense feelings.
Reminiscent of Talk Talk’s ascent toward Post-Rock, the album is introspective and impossibly atmospheric. It’s possible to treat Hats as background music, but why would you want to? The most cursory listen draws you in and holds you close. Its cohesion keeps you locked in. It transports you to streets left blurred with cigarette smoke and mist. The neon signs all say ‘Open,’ their invitations reflected in gleaming puddles on the asphalt, but you just pull your coat tighter and keep walking.
Hats is an album to listen to on a late night drive home from a friend’s party. Turn it on when you can feel a chapter of your life coming to a close. Raise the volume when the headlights start to blur against your windshield, and you become lost in memory. It’s bitter but there’s something underneath it all that’s making you hopeful. Almost euphoric, despite everything. The streets are slick with rain. Your windshield wipers beat in time with the melody. Something better is coming.