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Round Table Review
Blackfield - V
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A Drop In The Ocean (1:36), Family Man (3:39), How Was Your Ride? (3:59), We'll Never Be Apart (2:55), Sorry (3:08), Life Is An Ocean (3:27), Lately (3:25), October (3:31), The Jackal (3:57), Salt Water (2:41), Undercover Heart (4:02), Lonely Soul (3:51), From 44 To 48 (4:35)
Patrick McAfee's Review
Blackfield produced two of the better prog/pop albums of the last 20 years with their first two releases. From that point, Steven Wilson took a back seat in the band to focus on his solo career. Subsequent albums, Welcome to my DNA and Blackfield IV still featured Wilson to some extent, but were mainly platforms for fellow member, Aviv Geffen. This new release finds Wilson back in the fold as a full member, and the final product is all the better for it. V is easily the best Blackfield album since their second.
There is something amazingly lush and moving about the music that these two talented gentleman create together. Even in the heavier moments, the melodies reign supreme. Though lyrically somber at times, the beauty of the performances and production create an uplifting feel. Some of this comes courtesy of the great Alan Parsons who produced three of the album's tracks. Clocking in at a total running length of just over 44 minutes, the songs of V are effectively concise and never wear out their welcome. If there is a negative, it is that the end of the album comes a bit too quickly.
After an appealing orchestral introduction to a later track, Family Man formally opens the album in a style that comfortably reflects earlier Blackfield material. The heavier guitar rhythms matching perfectly with the layered and memorable chorus. In fact, many of the songs follow the same successful course of previous collaborations by Wilson and Geffen. Tracks like How was your ride, We'll never be apart, Life is an Ocean and Lately may sound rather unassuming and straightforward on the surface, but there is a depth to them that is musically quite complex.
The choruses throughout the album are astoundingly contagious. Exceptions from the traditional Blackfield sound do exist in the instrumental Salt Water, the sparse Octoberand the almost R&B-like Lonely Soul. Ultimately though, the elements that made this collaboration successful in the past can be found in abundance on V. Album closer, From 44 to 48 is particularly memorable in its poignancy.
Blackfield doesn't create music that I would necessarily call prog, but there is a style and substance that makes it way more interesting than most pop music. Consistent in quality and brimming with quality, V_ is definitely a return to excellence for this talented duo.
Mark Hughes' Review
Blackfield V sees the duo of Aviv Geffen and Stephen Wilson return to a fully collaborative unit, their first since 2007's second album, Blackfield II. Although both subsequent albums, Welcome To My DNA and the short Blackfield IV with it's collection of guest vocalists, gained favour from DPRP's reviewers, there was definitely a lessening of what made the group's first two efforts so characteristic.
With Wilson's 2004 announcement that he was withdrawing from all subsequent Blackfield activities, it looked as if any future releases would remain the sole responsibility of Geffen. It was, therefore, somewhat of a surprise when the resumption of the pairing was announced in August of last year. Originally scheduled for release in November, this has been pushed back to 10 February 2017, although for those too impatient to wait, three tracks have been released via iTunes.
It was with much trepidation that I approached the first hearing of this album, as the bulk of the material was still composed by Geffen, with only the last three songs written by Wilson and just two pieces, the lush orchestral opener A Drop In The Ocean and, keeping to a titular theme, Life Is An Ocean. I was more than happy to discover that V sees a magnificent return to form, with a collection of songs that are the equal of the first couple of albums. Laden with strong melodies, big choruses and plenty of harmony vocals, the whole album is quite the unexpected delight.
One difference on this album, is the presence of a female vocalist who unfortunately was not credited on the promo information handed out with the advance digital files. She not only provides marvellous backing vocals on the Wilson-penned Undercover Heart but also has lead responsibilities on Lonely Soul, where they are probably the best thing about an unusual clunker from Wilson, and on a section of Lately which creates a new dynamic in the song.
Geffen has certainly upped the quality of his writing for this release, with a large number of piano-based numbers, ably supported by strings. Each of his numbers contain delightful qualities: the upbeat We'll Never Be Apart, the balladry of October, the instrumental interlude of Salt Water, and the melancholy How Was Your Ride?. There is not a lot to fault here.
Wilson's final song, and album closer From 44 to 48 is something of a treasure. Sung by Wilson himself, the presumably autobiographical song, divides a life by various age ranges portraying a small vignette of the relevant ages. A great song, which if there was to be any criticism, it would be that the ending of the song, and the album, is a bit limp.
If you were under the impression that Blackfield albums were perhaps falling under the law of diminishing returns, then V blows that apprehension out of the, well, Ocean I suppose! Hang on to some of that Christmas money and invest in the album, you won't be disappointed.
Calum Gibson's Review
Blackfield have been around for a while now, forming back in 2001 as a collaboration between Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, No Man and involved in most other modern prog bands on the Kscope label in some way) and Israeli rock singer Aviv Geffen. Having released four albums so far, there has been an amount of hype amongst the world of prog for their 5th album, aptly titled Blackfield V. Having previously heard some of their music, and having a fondness for their song Perfect World, I decided to give this one a shot.
After an orchestral, almost 1960s James Bond-esque intro, the first track, A Drop in the Ocean, comes in. Sadly there is only one way to describe it. It sounds like a Steven Wilson track. Every band he has worked with has made songs like this, every band influenced by him has made songs like this. From Pineapple Thief to Big Big Train to Porcupine Tree and even Anathema. Which, while being good, with all the right notes and whatnot in the right places, it is getting boring.
The album continues like this. While being a collaboration, it has Steven Wilson written all over it. To the point where I can't bring myself to fully enjoy the songs with him singing. The ones without him, such as We'll Never Be Apart, do however have a decent sound and come across as a bit of a departure from the hallmarks of Mr Wilson.
Musically it is fairly standard, but there is some nice guitar work, generally on the lighter side of rock, with some bits of piano and strings spread throughout.
I find the tracks where Steven Wilson takes a back seat to be more enjoyable, as due to his involvement in writing, mastering, remixing, producing, engineering and guesting on a lot of stuff, a lot of modern prog seems uninspiring to me these days. This album joins a long list that suffers from "The Kscope Sound" as I call it (the overall, almost formulaic type of prog found on that label often).
In short, this isn't a bad album, but neither is it fresh, new or groundbreaking. Kind of like watching E4 on a Sunday. The episodes of Big Bang Theory aren't bad, but you've seen them all many times before. I can safely say I won't be returning to this one.
Published Sunday 1 January 2017
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