Issue 2007-010: Blackfield - Blackfield II - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Once (4:03), 1,000 People (3:54), Miss U (4:13), Christenings (4:37), This Killer (4:06), Epidemic (4:59), My Gift Of Silence (4:05), Some Day (4:22), Where Is My Love? (2:59), End Of The World (5:13)
Ed Sander's Review
Blackfield, the project of Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson and the Israeli artist Aviv Geffen, has finally released their long anticipated second album. And it was well worth the three year wait; Blackfield II is even better than the debut album and establishes this collaboration as a band with their own sound that deserves a much wider audience than just us prog lovers.
One of the first things I noticed is that Aviv Geffen seems to have a much smaller role on this new album, at least he doesn't have as much lead vocals as on the first album. Personally you don't hear me complaining about this because I love Steve Wilson's voice and I much rather hear him singing than listening to Geffen's thick accent ('with your peektures in my head'). As a matter of fact, the only song in which Geffen has lead vocals (Miss U) is the only occasion of rather daft lyrics on the album. It's not a bad song but the words miss some of the debts and cynicism of the other tracks, making it feel like a standard pop song about lost love. Geffen's presence works much better when he duets with Wilson, like in the wonderful Epidemic, one of the more powerful tracks on the album.
Now that I mention powerful, that's probably another point of improvement I'd mention for Blackfield. There's a real out-of-balance leaning towards ballads and slow songs on the album. There are just two songs that one could describe as powerful being the splendid Once (featuring great rhythmic collaboration between drumming and riffing) and another highlight called Epidemic (featuring a spooky little piano theme). I certainly wouldn't have minded a couple more songs like these, although Miss U and Where is My Love? have a couple of harder sections as well. Come to think of it ... maybe this album is not as peaceful and quiet at all. ;-)
Whereas some of the songs on Blackfield's debut album sounded a bit like Porcupine Tree outtakes (Blackfield and Lullaby) this new album leans much more on the sound the band created in songs like Pain, Hello, Summer and Cloudy Now, thereby feeling much more like an authentic band than a PT-spin off (even though there is an eerie resemblance to Dark Matter in the percussive atmosphere of This Killer). Also, whereas the debut album had some songs that were slightly more 'difficult' to get into (Glow, Scars, The Hole in Me) this new album only consists of songs with incredibly well crafted melodic hooks, often supported by delicious vocal harmonies. All of the songs are immediately likeable and will appeal to non-proggers as well. My girlfriend was actually singing along to The End Of The World the second time I played it ! Mentioning prog, somebody recently asked on the DPRP forum if the new album was prog. Well, it certainly isn't prog in the traditional sense of long epics, lots of tempo changes and very daring arrangements and time signatures. I would much rather call it melancholic pop music, and before the prog snobs among you lift their noses in disgust ... there's nothing wrong with that! In my book there's good music (which in my taste quite often is prog) and bad music (which even more often is prog as well). This Blackfield album is simply just extremely good music.
Wilson once said in an interview that he writes so many songs about depression and sad things because it makes him feel good; there's probably some kind of therapeutic value in it. Whatever it is Wilson must have been in seventh heaven after this one because there's a whole lot of pain and sorrow poured out over the listener, although there often seems to be a glimpse of hope around the corner. Even an utterly depressing song like Some Day, which holds the advice 'it means nothing much this life, so find the highest cliff and dive', lets us know that eventually things will work out. Remarkably, some of the lyrical content deals with the faith of pop starts, whether it's the depression (1000 People) or ending up in the gutter as a has-been (Christenings).
Most songs clock in between the 4 and 5 minutes mark and I must say that I never have the feeling that - unlike with Blackfield on the debut album - they are too short or long. The total length of the album (around 40 minutes) doesn't worry me either since the album leaves a very fulfilling feel after hearing ten marvellous songs.
I've got the feeling 2007 will be a good year for music. It certainly has started in a splendid way with this new Blackfield album. Still in doubts? Check out the preview on the Blackfield website.
Martien Koolen's Review
Porcupine Tree is one of my favourite prog rock bands and I simply admire everything Steven Wilson musically “comes up’ with. The first Blackfield album, released in August 2004 was a masterpiece filled with ten extremely emotional and melodic rock songs; The CD was a success and even spawned two hit singles. In February 2006, the band returned to the studio to record their second album. The new album, simply called Blackfield II, is again a little musical masterpiece, featuring ten new heavenly emo-rock songs.
Just like the first Blackfield album this is not a progressive rock album, in fact it is a rock/pop album with lots of atmosphere, emotion and heavenly melodies. Clear musical influences are again PT during the Lightbulb Sun-period), David Gilmour and The Beatles. The songs of Blackfield are more compact, more intense and there are less guitar solos than on the Porcupine Tree albums, but strangely enough I do not really miss the guitar solos here, although I am a real guitar freak!
The album kicks off with the amazing Once, pure emo-rock with a very catchy chorus. Follow-up 1,000 People is one of my personal favourites, featuring an addictive keyboard riff and very emotional singing by Steven. Miss U is the only song that features Aviv doing the lead vocals, the song ends with a heavenly short guitar solo. Another highlight on this album is Epidemic which kicks off with a piano and vocal intro; after 1:30 minutes the electronics kick in and the song gets heavier. The end is rather bombastic and you can hear a nice female voice in the last part. Where Is My Love is a rather “poppy” song with a very addictive chorus that stays in your head for a very long time…. The last song on the album which is also the longest one is again filled with lots of emotion, dreamy melodies and amazing vocal passages. It is a pity that this album only lasts 42 minutes, but then again you can always press the repeat button several times…..
Lyrically this album is typical Steven Wilson stuff, just listen carefully to songs like 1,000 People, Epidemic or End Of The World and you will learn more about Wilson’s view of life…
Do not miss this fabulous album!!
Geoff Feakes' Review
Blackfield started out in 2001 as a collaboration between Porcupine Tree front man Steven Wilson and outspoken Israeli political commentator and rock musician Aviv Geffen. Two years of sporadic recording resulted in 2004’s self titled release and a stunning collection of intelligent, ear friendly songs that quickly became a ‘must have’ in prog circles. Last year saw a return to the studio for a six month stretch joined by the now established Blackfield band including Daniel Salomon on piano, Seffy Efrati on bass and Tomer Z on drums. As before Wilson and Geffen share vocal duties with the former providing the lion’s share of guitars and the latter mostly keyboards. With a sprinkling of strings the result is another collection of ten melancholic sometimes angst ridden but always tuneful songs that have instant appeal. The sound and feel of the album is not a million miles from their debut collection with individual and joint song writing credits from both men.
With its wall-of-sound guitars opener Once is an infectious slice of new wave post-punk reminiscent of early New Order, Siouxsie And The Banshees and the Cocteau Twins. For me the albums finest four minutes and a sure fire hit single in a more enlightened world. In contrast the elegant 1,000 People with its hypnotic synth line, dreamy harmonies and sweet strings oozes elegance from every pour. Only the abrupt ending spoils the mood so skilfully created. Miss U is an OK mid tempo song with a memorable chorus and more rich strings although the distorted voice effect used so heavily on the first album is in danger of sounding overused here. A melodic Tears For Fears style guitar break fades all too quickly. Relaxed acoustic guitar and piano dominate Christenings with its distinct Beatles like chorus, aided by a neat line in George Harrison style slide guitar. The ambiguously titled This Killer is the albums most subdued song with a gentle Ant Phillips inflected acoustic guitar line and strings that ebb and flow below the evocative chorus.
Epidemic is another song that harks back to early 80’s new wave and a driving piece reminiscent of Talk Talk and Echo And The Bunnymen. Great stuff. At this point the normally high standards seemed to dip a little and I found my attention span wandering. Were cracks beginning to appear or was it beginning to sound a little samey? Either way it’s hard to fault My Gift Of Silence or Some Day two skilfully crafted songs with the later benefiting from a soaring string hook to close. It gets better with the rolling Sowing The Seeds Of Love like drum intro to Where Is My Love? With its compelling guitar riff Geffen’s song is another highlight and originally appeared on the bonus disc included with the first album. Although it’s been dusted down and given a new lick of paint it hardly differs from the original and therefore it’s difficult to justify its inclusion here. End Of The World is an excellent closer with compelling vocals, a waltz like melody and the orchestra pulling out all the stops. Another standout song and despite the title an uplifting listening experience.
Steven Wilson has once again produced a polished sound which helps to elevate this release well above the ordinary. As good as the album is however I do have some nagging doubts. Whilst both Once and End Of The World sound like instant classics in my opinion there is nothing here to match the pop sensibilities of Blackfield or the aching beauty of Lullaby, two Wilson penned tunes from the first album. With an average length of four minutes I also feel the songs are a tad on the short side, something it shares with its predecessor. I can respect a desire to keep the songs concise and unpretentious but I believe that several of the songs would have benefited from further instrumental development. Add to this the inclusion of the previously released Where Is My Love? and I can’t help feeling a little short changed. Ultimately the album has a sense of ‘been here before’ and somehow it doesn’t feel quite so essential this time round.
Christos Ampatzis' Review
When I heard Blackfield II was coming out, I started wondering if its fate would be similar to Blackfield I's. That is, extensive playback for a couple of months, really melting the disc in the player, and then, silence. So how are things here? Or better, how different are things here? Well, I guess nobody will be surprised. Not much. More or less the same approach to melancholic pop/rock, few glances to progressive, a bit forced sad lyrics, but once again, great production and overall, high quality. This Wilson-guy sure knows how to write damn catchy stuff that sticks to your head, and people who like the soft side of Porcupine Tree, with lush vocal harmonies and lots of acoustic moments will be happy. Geffen contributes a lot too, composing most of the songs, singing, lead and background, and does a pretty good job, even though I admit a slight dislike of his vocals in a couple of instances. Maybe it's the English language, maybe not. The opener Once is charged with Thom Yorke electricity, and being built on slower and faster parts contrast does a good job. Actually it opened my appetite for something a bit dynamic and adventurous in the album, but I lost that for quite some songs. So if you expect the unexpected, stop reading and go look elsewhere. Predictable it may be this album, but it's good. So keep on reading!
For me the second half of the album is much better than the first, mainly because the latter is too mainstream and easy to listen to. 1,000 People, Wilson's favourite track (huh?), is a mild acoustic composition that is just cute, but really nothing special. Same goes for Wilson's composition (an outtake of Deadwing) Christenings, strongly influenced by 70's Bowie. The keyboards at the end almost save the day but overall this track is not a super special one. A comment I feel like making by way of comparison between the two albums is that here the song is not ended prematurely, unlike a lot of songs in Blackfield I. A very welcome improvement. Miss U is way too syrupy for my taste. Despite the certain All About Eve feeling, I really have trouble accepting this track - lyrics wise and vocals wise it's almost unbearable. Queensryche's immortal ballad Silent Lucidity comes to my mind when listening to This Killer. A good job with the strings, a nice duet between the two singers, and overall a very nice ballad, continuing in the acoustic vein mostly followed so far. Very good songwriting but nothing outstanding.
Something more adventurous this way comes with Epidemic. Switches between dark piano parts and a heavier guitar fix a dark-pop ambiance. The female background vocals certainly add something, and here we have one of the strongest and the most rhythmical tracks of the album, featuring what I want from these guys: melody, sentiment, variety. OK, I will not nag about Geffen's singing in the refrain. And we go on with one absolute highlight, Wilson's My Gift Of Silence. Reminding me a bit of the suicidal PT track Heartattack In A Layby, this is a killer. Beautiful music and a catchy and poppy refrain, so I doubt there will be listeners who will not love this one. And then still more great stuff. My personal favourite on this album, Some Day, offers very simple lyrics and reminds me more of Anathema than Porcupine Tree. Wilson's singing is great in both low and high or thinner tones. What does it have to make it so special for me? A very clever change. The ending is just excellent, as guitars come in when the drums and the ambient electronics get stronger, to fade away with some dramatic strings.
And when you are at the peak, you have to go down. Where Is My Love? is arguably the worst song in the album, and moreover, it was part of the European special edition of Blackfield I. Yet, its severely improved, both in vocals and music. What's the use of reusing songs when the band has two 40' albums? I think the reason is that the reworking on the song improved it so vividly much that they decided to give it another try. OK, but still I don't like the song. The closer End Of The World is characterised by Geffen's dynamic intervention, just like in Cloudy Now from the first album. The lyrics are again simple but bitter and pessimistic. Nice, catchy, and a good finale, just like Hello was.
What is there more to say? There are golden moments in here, there are times that it sounds like a nice collection of acoustic tracks, but sometimes the tracks are rather cheesy (Where Is My Love?, Miss U). I'd prefer if they invested more on trying to take the listener by surprise. The songs are anyway pop-based and there is no danger to diverge from that road. It might be that this album is slightly better than its predecessor. But coming after it, I have to be stricter this time. I will not be so enthusiastic, and hopefully having learnt my lesson, I don't see it lasting forever in my classics list. That is why I also didn't go to see them perform live this time. I'll indulge this CD, then put it away and wait for No Man's and Porcupine Tree's new releases.
Dries Dokter's Review
If you have ever sat alone in the dark, beer in hand, musing on how things were long ago and were missing some music to play during this melancholic mood, now you have the ideal album to play while doing so. Like the first offering Blackfield II this is not a cheerful album. But it is great music to sulk or just sit in he dark and listen to. It is not a depressing album, let's be clear about that too! Mr Wilson and Mr Geffen have delivered yet another masterpiece, but not one with twenty five minute long tracks with tempo changes and recurring melodies...
This second album again has a number of concise songs that at first sight look simple but on closer listening are really not. String arrangements, piano loops to decorate the music and of course some guitar solos, that's what this album is all about. And what a brilliant album this is! Progressive rock with a poppy approach. So again the collaboration of Steve Wilson and Aviv Geffen has paid off. And it seems more of a collaboration than the previous one: Blackfield are really developing a sound of their own, and this might well be the effect of Steve Wilson staying in Israel for six months.
So although this album has that typical Blackfield sound, as introduced on the debut album, it is even better than the previous one. One of those rare albums that catches on immediately but at the same time does not become tiring quickly. You can hear it time after time and just drown yourself in the melancholy.
It's hard to mention stand out tracks because none of them really stand out: they're all of an equal high standard. This is a standout album! It took them three years to create and release this highly anticipated album and it was well worth the wait. I do have my favourites: The opener Once (that has a mellow, more up tempo structure), the third track Miss U (with an up tempo start but mellow continuation and the fragile voice of Aviv), Christening (lyric subject like: Porcupine Tree's Four Chords That Made A Million and Marillion's Three Minute Boy), Epidemic (haunting and persistent keyboard loop, voices of Steve and Aviv nicely alternating) and of course Where Is My Love? (great build up). There's only one small negative point about this album: it is too short! It clocks at just over forty minutes but contains one track (Where Is My Love?) that was on the bonus disk of the first offering. Then again: it is not the same version.
If you own Blackfield's debut to might notice there is a gap next to it in your CD cabinet: it's because that is were this new album should be stored. Although I doubt it will be in that spot much: most of the time it will be in your CD player. So go to a record store, pick up this album, then at night: take a beer (or wine), dim the lights and enjoy! Another brilliant album by Blackfield.
Dave Baird's Review
I found Steve Wilson and Aviv Geffen's first Blackfield album a bit of a patchy affair. Broadly speaking it was all OK but for me, only one track - the eponymous Blackfield - ever really stood out with the rest of the album coming over as just about OK but nothing special. I think perhaps they suffered from the wide range of styles employed and the whole CD felt a little experimental and ad-hoc. This second outing, cunningly entitled Blackfield II, is a more cohesive affair - the band seem to have settled on a style and have stuck to it. Seems to me to be more Steve Wilson in the songwriting this time around, more of a progressive feel while still sticking to the short, radio-friendly song format.
Steve's influence seems prevalent in the melodies and lyrics too, every song seems to be about death, lost love, wasted lives - the usual stuff we expect (and deeply appreciate) when we listen to Porcupine Tree and indeed on occasion you'd be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Mr Wilson's other little project. Aviv is definitely apparent in the vocal department - certainly moreso than the first album where, to be honest I can't recall a track where he's clearly singing solo, although I suppose he must be. Perhaps his voice is so much like Steve's that it has just passed me by. No more apparent is this than on Miss U where Aviv is singing the verses before Steve joins in on the chorus in harmony. Sounds like they are both are singing harmony for the bulk of the album, both are highly complimentary to one another and together create a beautiful warm and lush tone, almost like a Simon & Garfunkel of the prog world...
Three songs in particular blow my mind every time I hear them: Christenings, Epidemic and The End Of The World - each of these is an absolute gem and I've been tormented by the tunes spinning round my head for the last few weeks (particularly Christenings, even my wife has started whistling this around the house). Singling these three out though is surely a personal preference as there's really not a bad track to be had - every song on this CD is a classic and would stand-out individually if placed amongst more average material. Christenings is streaming on Blackfield's MySpace page so don't take my word for it, go and listen!
In conclusion I would say that Steve and Aviv have put the very best from the first CD into the second and have both expanded and improved it at the same time. It's a mighty impressive release that will surely delight the existing Blackfield audience. On top of this I believe than anyone who's a fan of Porcupine Tree but didn't yet take the chance to listen to some of Steve's other work can surely not go wrong with this CD. Great stuff!