Blackfield- Blackfield II (We Put Out/Atlantic)
When Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson joined with Israeli pop star Aviv Geffen in 2004 to put out a collection of poppy prog songs (or proggy pop songs), people thought it was a nice gesture to hold them over until the next PT record came out. When he said he would be doing it again, the same year that a Porcupine Tree full-length would be released, no less, people thought it was stupid and that the side-project should have remained a one-off. These people were wrong.
shows that there is more to be said with Israeli pop/British prog fusion than one album's worth of material. Wilson and Geffen trade off lead vocals, guitar solos, keyboard flourishes, and even lyric credits over the record's ten song, forty-two minute length. The songs never go off the deep end into self-indulgence, because they just aren't that kind of song. You wouldn't really know that Steven Wilson was the virtuosic progger that he is based on this album; the songs recall The Beatles more than they do Pink Floyd, in contrast to the Tree's trademark space-rock.
Songs where Aviv Geffen takes the songwriting charge are often the most interesting ones. His lyrics address the world's problems from the view of someone living in the midst of them. His hometown of Tel Aviv gives him an upper hand lyrically over the British or American perspectives of many songs that fail to capture the essence of the Middle Eastern conflict. He also lyrically addresses relationships between people with a unique war-torn twist. His guitar lines are often Middle Eastern as well, and his heavily accented croon is beautiful while still extremely common sounding. While Steven Wilson is undoubtedly a genius, Geffen steals the album.
The arrangements are simple and tasteful, usually just one guitar, one piano, bass, drums, and the voices of the two men. They manage to come off in a progressive way, however, a la early Jethro Tull or solo David Gilmour. Simple, refined, yet unabashedly prog.
In the vein of Porcupine Tree's recently released magnum opus Fear of a Blank Planet
, quite a few of Blackfield II
's material sounds hopeless and depressed: highlights "1000 People" and "End of the World" offer only the faintest of glimmers of hope, while "My Gift of Silence" and "This Killer" leave the listener as suicidal as the composers potentially were when writing them. Steven Wilson can be given full credit for making his guitar and keyboard lines effectively translate the songs' lyrical content and overall moods: he has always had a way of making his instruments emotional (though the guest appearances from fellow porcupines Gavin Harrison and Richard Barbieri probably help).
Without a doubt, this is one of the defining prog statements of 2007. Steven Wilson has, like Peter Gabriel, attempted to unite a world torn asunder through the magic of music, playing with an Israeli bandmate and ensemble in a way that gives the music of both east and west the spotlight for the world at large. Also like Gabriel, Wilson has released a prog album outside of the context of a legendary prog band with great success. To the doubters and naysayers, I think this album is enough to make you shut up. May there be a Blackfield III
and more to come.