Melancholic masters Wilson and Geffen get reflective on first retrospective.
Steven Wilson was honing his skills in pop music writing long before his peppy solo effort To The Bone last year, which slogged it out with Ed Sheeran and Elvis at the top of the UK album chart and saw the prog icon briefly indulge in his love of ABBA.
Blackfield, Wilson’s collaboration with Israeli singersongwriter Aviv Geffen, never quite reached those heady heights of breakfast TV sofas or chart summits, but it did give Wilson the opportunity to purge himself of three-minute verse/ chorus songs while his main band Porcupine Tree roughed it out with meandering forays and bolshy chunk.
Curated by Wilson and Geffen themselves, Open Mind is a look back at Blackfield’s five albums, spanning 2004 to 2017. Opener Blackfield is an apt barometer of what’s in store over the 15 tracks, with the acoustic instrumentation sparse yet warm, melancholic yet rousing. Wilson’s vocals slide over the chorus’ strains in a masterclass of songwriting, hooking you in without feeling overblown.
The duo decided against taking things chronologically, with 2017’s Family Man following, a Porcupine Tree-lite rocker. Elsewhere there’s the folk-speckled Open
Mind and Once, which pivots on indie guitar attack. 1,000 People, meanwhile, features Wilson’s stark vocals biting into your conscience. ‘A thousand people yell, shouting my name, but I wanna die in this moment, I wanna die,’ he rues.
It’s easy to focus on Wilson, but Blackfield is just as much Geffen’s, if not more, especially after a shift in power in the late 2000s. His track October is one of the compilation’s gems, with lavish orchestration catapulting it into film soundtrack realms.
When contrasted with Wilson’s more kaleidoscopic work, Blackfield can feel a little plodding, with Faking sounding like an indie rock throwaway. But that’s part of the deal. Melancholic at their very heart, Blackfield still manage to make light from the deepest, darkest pits of human nature, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.