Invoking the first album with the imagery of the old jug emblazoned with the “Blackfield” label, one might assume this to be the last hurrah for the experiment musicians Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson set forth in 2004. In a lot of ways, the latest, fifth edition feels very much a piece with that first record except for two things: much like Blackfield IV, Aviv Geffen is in the driver’s seat, with Wilson providing some vocals, production, and a couple of writing credits. Also, V feels like a more expensive version of the group.
That comes from a few places, not the least of which is a bit more maturity, something that dogged the third entry, Welcome to My DNA. With lush orchestration and a smattering of tracks co-produced by god’s honest legend Alan Parsons, number five has bigness on its side, but it also has that odd shadow feeling of being a denouement rather than being the next chapter.
Part IV could be to blame. I will readily admit I was biased against it because of Wilson’s voluntarily diminished input. I was not prepared to accept Suede’s Brett Anderson, Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donohue, and Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh as added vocalists. In doing so, I failed the first time around to recognize the record as being a good one, a worthy effort, and primarily because of the work of Geffen. There was a prevalent belief that the experiment was over, so the appearance of Blackfield V surprised many. Is it possible to continue on this enterprise with a prejudice against anything but the Wilson/Geffen pairing being the dominant attribute?
Who knows what anyone else is thinking? It could be that V is a reset rather than a conclusion, but there are plenty of reasons to state that if it is the latter, it’s a grandiose way to go out. Both singers get equal time at the mic. The most affecting of the tracks is “How Was Your Ride?” which benefits from Parsons’ production, thick strings, and Parsons himself pitching in background vocals. The result is a song that would not feel out of place on any of his post-Project efforts, Try Anything Once, On Air, or The Time Machine.
Blackfield has, from the start, been about melancholy even when it served as Wilson’s pop outlet during the days when Porcupine Tree was entrenched in the metal scene. Geffen has always been firm in the rock sound, from his Israeli albums to his solo English-sung record produced by Trevor Horn, and so this entry is a proper reflection of his sensibilities, of which Wilson finds commonality. Aside from the opening orchestral passage “A Drop In the Ocean,” it’s corresponding “Life Is An Ocean” (both co-writes), and “From 44 to 48” written by Wilson, Geffen holds the singular vision behind #5.
With that in mind, how this record is received will provide a lot of insight as to whether Blackfield will have the legs to walk to a sixth entry. I hope it will. Geffen is proving to be a solid craftsman, with or without the influential collaborators. I would hate to think we couldn’t hear more of this work simply because of a misapprehension that this is one of Wilson’s many personas, and without him, the effort is somehow unworthy.
If this is the start of a new chapter, it is a welcomed one. If, however, this is a symmetrical bow, closing the book with icons reflecting how it opened, Geffen and Wilson have done well. Blackfield V is a necessity.