I am fortunate enough to contribute the odd review and article to this wonderful website, and I also write some reviews for some guys in London by the name of Echoes and Dust www.echoesanddust.com . It is well worth a visit to their site to find some amazing bands which tend to be of the dark, heavy and very powerful variety.
I recently reviewed the latest Blackfield album for Echoes and Dust and wanted to share this with fellow Progarchists.
Most of our Progarchy reviews are very positive, effusive and done from a ‘fan’ perspective.
For a change, this review is decidedly negative. I have not listened to an album that annoyed me quite as much for a long long time ….. but I make no apologies if only to make it known how little this release has to do with the current Prog movement, particularly at this marvellous time with an abundance of quality music being released almost weekly.
I’ve never really quite known what to make of Blackfield – the vehicle for Israeli artist Aviv Geffen – and where he (they ?) sit in the progressive scene despite now being on the marvellous KScope label.
For sure, the connections with maestro Steven Wilson have added gravitas and undeniable ‘box office’ to what might otherwise be a relatively unknown artist in the current scene, where top quality releases are becoming the norm, not the exception.
Before commenting on this latest release, we need to take a quick look back at previous Blackfield offerings.
The first album, released in 2004, is a superb piece of work and has the distinctive mark of Mr Wilson who contributes several lead vocals and writing duties. There are some very strong tracks and the album has a flow and energy with tracks like ‘Open Minds’, ‘Glow’ and ‘Pain’ that would sit comfortably in the quieter sections of any Porcupine Tree album.
The second album from 2007 carried on in the same vein but never reached the heights of the debut album. We get the same short, snappy tracks, crisp production and that distinctive influence of Wilson but the nuggets of brilliance become a little more diluted. One highlight of this album is the stunning ‘My Gift of Silence’ – a brilliant track and one of my all time favourites, but this quality is not maintained throughout.
For me, where it all starts to unravel for Blackfield is with the release of their third album in 2011 – ‘Welcome to My DNA’ – where tellingly, all songwriting duties bar one track are by Geffen himself.
Despite looking forward to this album enormously I was hugely disappointed to find a mix of trite lyrics, bland melodies and crass sentiments very poorly expressed. There is one track in particular that is virtually unplayable it is that bad – ‘Go To Hell’ – where the repeated ‘F…k you…’ lyrics are just an embarrassment. This album has rarely been re-visited except prior to this review when it just confirmed my original thoughts…..
So to this latest release – ‘Blackfield IV’.
Is it a case of getting back to past glories or pushing forward from ‘Welcome to My DNA’ with a fresh sound and new direction ?
With the opening track –‘Pills’ – it is a promising start. A sweeping track with a touch of drama, this is a vast improvement and has lovely touches in the structure and recording.
‘Springtime’ starts to worry me though. The second track is bland beyond bland and is virtually unmemorable which sadly, becomes a theme throughout the whole album.
Vincent Cavanagh of Anathema adds a song with ‘X-ray’ which is pleasant enough, as though he recorded it in passing, but it does have a nice refrain with a tuneful Anathema-lite feel to it.
‘Sense of Insanity’ which follows is where the album starts to collapse though. For me this is a terrible track with woeful lyrics
Mother – have you seen the world today
The shooting all over town
I’m a sinner
I’m not the one you one you prayed for
… and it just gets worse if you care to seek out the You Tube lyric video (if you are brave enough…)
If this is supposed to be a protest song, or a political swipe at the Israeli military, it sadly fails in my opinion.
We then have a truly bizarre couple of tracks with ‘Firefly’ sounding like it’s from a third rate musical. Brett Anderson of Suede contributes vocals but has no chance of rescuing it. At least it’s not as bad as ‘The Only Fool is Me’ which continues this mini-musical theme which sounds like an outtake from a 6th form performance of the Phantom of the Opera.
Another couple of bland, plodding inconsequential pop songs follow with no redeeming features then we get to ‘Faking’ which raises the quality by several notches and in context with the rest of the album is a great track.
The one thing that overrides this album is it’s misplaced earnestness and seriousness – there is no hint of humour, edge, feeling, protest, energy -nothing. Geffen seems to have a high profile in Israel with a famous family, and an energetic outspoken take on politics, but none of this comes through in the music. It is this blandness that so irritates me – there were enough talented, creative and respected people involved in making the album yet how such a bland offering can be released is beyond me.
I hope this album finds it’s market, but I fear that people buying it thinking it is part of this magnificent Prog movement will be hugely disappointed.