on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2015 10 Sep

Manafonistas » Lost classic #15: Public Face, Private Face by Quiet City

von: Ian McCartney Filed under: Blog | TB | Comments off

Me? I didn’t initially like Paul Buchanan’s Mid Air. Being a Blue Nile fan I’d pre-ordered the deluxe CD edition, then when it finally got released in late spring/early summer 2012 I was like „yeah, it’s alright“. Fast forward to about two months ago and the record started making perfect sense. What seemed like Blue Nile -isms were in fact painstakingly crafted crytpic crossword clues. And like with all the best cryptic crosswords, the answers ain’t accessible immediately.

You might know „Public Face, Private Face“ by Quiet City. I didn’t when it was released sometime in 2002. It was only through a (now long gone) link to Quiet City’s (presumably also now long-gone) website on Wikipedia’s Blue Nile entry that led me to the record, about six years after its release. Even then, it took a bit of tracking down. It finally arrived through the letterbox, ages later. Mint condition CD but with a jewel case that had seen a fair bit of life. It had a Tower Records (Dublin) price ticket on it (an ‚on sale‘ one, no less, with the previous prices on stickers underneath, like a dendrochronology of ever-thinning market prices had been in action. But this album won in the end. It surfaces on Amazon Marketplace now and then for £100 a pop, and has a median sale price on Discogs of £59).

Paul Buchanan is obviously the draw here, the reason people will part with so much money for the record. And yes, PB’s contributions are worth the price of admission alone. „Due North“ is a killer track, and I’ve only just checked its running time which is almost nine minutes. That’s a lot of minutes for a pop song, and every second is gloriously accounted for: from the electrolyte atmosphere, maritime town railway station vibe opening and lyrics:

Is the seabird scared in the cold stone air
The flags, the light, beat out a fanfare
And the engines start to pound
Beneath our tired feet
Then we slowly inch away
And my heart begins to beat

… to its closing moments of elongated vocal whoops, sweeping ocean strings and seagull noises.

The rest of the record, it has to be said, is very unlike this. A lot of it sounds on the face of it like accessible jazz-influenced easy listening Radio 2 gear. Which I guess it kind of could be, except that it takes phenomenal skill – not populist intention – to construct stuff with this depth and sense of space and dimension. Not just the composition either – the arrangements, playing and production make you feel like you’re in a brand new car. Take the intro to track nine, „Goodnight, My Baby“. It’s all there. This record is a classic. And few come more lost than this one.


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