The origins of V have appeared halting, uncertain. Beginning in 2004, this collaboration between Steven Wilson and Israeli singer-songwriter Aviv Geffen was balanced equally over an initial brace of well-received Blackfield albums. However, Wilson took a back-seat role for 2011’s Welcome To My DNA and IV from 2013, the better to concentrate upon a blossoming solo career and quality control accordingly suffered. After IV, Wilson suggested he would cede the project altogether to Geffen, a bona fide pop star in his homeland.
Somewhat unexpectedly then, Blackfield’s fifth album emerges with both Wilson and Geffen trumpeting it as a joint venture once more. Certainly, Wilson’s signature imprint is all over the general mood and ambience of the music. In total, V sounds rapturous, resplendent. There is a lush grandeur to the sweep of its 13 tracks, made up of layers of acoustic guitar, puncturing electric stabs, deft, icy piano figures and soothing strings courtesy of the London Session Orchestra. This, of course, is terrain familiar to Wilson loyalists from The Raven That Refused To Sing and Hand.Cannot.Erase. Credit as well to the veteran producer Alan Parsons, back with Wilson from The Raven… and who adds ballast to three songs.
There is, too, an epic vision to V. A song-cycle, its interweaving themes touch upon life, loss and the liquid sense of time, locating the human experience as a great tidal ocean. And yet beyond all this impressive window dressing lurks another, more prosaic narrative. Wilson is credited with just three songs and two of these alongside Geffen – the short, stately opening instrumental, A Drop In The Ocean, and Life Is An Ocean, also majestic but abrupt, as if it were meant as but one movement in a greater work. Alone, he is only responsible for the closing track, From 44 To 48, a melancholy ballad with a nagging guitar phrase that threatens to burst into Rush’s Closer To The Heart.
The other 10 songs are all Geffen’s and therein is the rub with V. Befitting of a judge on the Israeli version of TV talent show The Voice, his comfort zone is conventional pop rock and the likes of We’ll Never Be Apart and Undercover Heart are taut, tight, but insubstantial. Similarly, his second-language lyrics tend to the simplistic and as such lack the depth and heft to carry off the weighty concept.
In essence, this is a record that Wilson troubleshoots. And in that regard at least, he has pulled off a triumph of aural engineering.