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27 August, 2004

Review: Blackfield - international edition (Blackfield, 2004)

I reviewed the album itself in February when it was first released in Israel, so won't discuss it again here, other than to highly recommend it!
Those familiar with SW's work on Porcupine Tree's 'Lightbulb Sun' (but not really 'In Absentia') will notice obvious similarities, though Aviv Geffen's (remarkably similar) style has resulted in drastically shorter, more radio-friendly songs.

The packaging is a digipack with a plastic tray for one disc and a pocket in one arm of the 'gatefold' for the album booklet, which provides lyrics, artist and recording details for the main album alone. I don't always like digipacks, as cardboard is more prone to damage than plastic (and interchangeable) jewel cases, but this is a good example, with a plastic disc holder imparting rigidity to the whole package, and Lasse Hoile artwork throughout (with layout by Carl Glover, another of my favourite designers).

The bonus disc isn't mentioned at all, and doesn't have a tray of it's own. Instead, it is simply slipped into the booklet, unprotected, as if as an afterthought. This has attracted criticism from fans.
Some have argued that this allows the same packaging to be used later for a 'standard' release without the bonus disc, but I'm unconvinced.
Given modern printing technology, the omission of bonus track details from the digipack and booklet can't really be justified on grounds of cost alone; two print runs of, say, 1,000 of version 'a' (with bonus) and 9,000 of version 'b' (no bonus) can't be vastly more expensive than a single 10,000-unit run of version 'b'.
Even a plain card inner sleeve, like that used in the Bass Communion 'Ghosts On Magnetic Tape' album would have seemed less cursory.
It just seems a pity for otherwise excellent packaging to have such a half-hearted finish; the slight extra effort would have been appreciated

Another common criticism is that there are two discs at all, when the main album is only 36:51 minutes long and the bonus tracks account for a further 14:41 (10:40 audio plus 4:01 video). I don't really agree; it's about disparate compositions, not how much one can pack into the disc. The main album is one unit, independent of the bonus tracks, and I'm pleased they were kept separate.

I must stress that the packaging offers no information at all about the contents of the bonus disc, not even track titles. All credits are printed on the disc itself, so whilst it was playing, I had to listen 'blind'. The following comments were made on that basis, without any knowledge of authorship or participating musicians.

'Perfect World' is very good, certainly of the quality and style of anything on the main album. I don't understand why it was left off the album, unless it was judged to not 'fit' the overall composition. It certainly isn't a discarded out-take!

When I first heard 'Where Is My Love?', I presumed it was a cover song; it just seemed uncharacteristic of Blackfield, both in composition (relatively simplistic (only relatively!) and surprisingly repetitive) and delivery. At the same point in each verse line, SW lengthens/slurs the letter 'r' (in 'heart', 'your', and 'stars'), as if attempting to mimic an American accent. Very odd, and annoying.
That I guessed it was a cover of something by a crappy pop/prog band like Rush or Yes gives some idea of how much I like it! No; that's an overstatement. I don't dislike it, it's just not something I'd particularly choose to hear, and I'm glad it's not on the main album.
It was only afterwards that I took the disc out of the player and discovered that it's a Geffen composition. Terrific. Now I'm going to be accused of slamming Geffen. I honestly didn't know who wrote it, and my criticism is genuinely based on the music itself. I don't like it, but I promise that's not because it's by Geffen!

The live version of 'Cloudy Now', recorded by the five-piece band for Channel 24 (Israeli TV's music channel) in late February (that's not mentioned on the disc itself) is excellent, with the clarity and balance of a track recorded live in a studio, rather than in the uncertain acoustics of a concert venue.
Note that the credit printed on the disc is again 'written by Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson', not Geffen alone. This reinforces the fact that it's not merely a transliteration (as opposed to translation) of Geffen's 1980's breakthough hit, which was unquestionably his own composition - the Blackfield version is different, with a substantive input from SW, and is credited as such.

It's good to have the excellent video of 'Blackfield' on the disc, though to be picky, anyone could already download exactly the same thing from Lasse Hoile's website.
I also noticed that in Windows Me at home, the video was very jerky in the player provided on the disc (fine in WinXP at work), and was much smoother when I played the mpeg in a standalone player (RealPlayer/Windows Media Player).

Did I mention that I recommend this album?

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