Review Summary: 12 minutes of excellent material is not a lot.
Blackfield started out as a collaboration on equal terms between Porcupine Tree's frontman and leader Steven Wilson and Israeli songwriter Aviv Geffen. With time Wilson's increasing engagement with his solo career forced him to close his various side projects as well as his main band. To avoid laying Blackfield to rest Geffen's role in the project's artistic development became more prominent, which was already apparent on band's third album Welcome to my DNA. This time Steven Wilson's role is even smaller, as he only has a few contributions as a lead singer and guitar player on Blackfield IV, while Geffen has written and composed all the songs.
Both gentlemen decided from the beginning that they were going for simple, more art pop songs, basing on melodies and atmosphere as opposed to increasingly complex song structures Wilson pursued in Porcupine Tree. Still, Blackfield's albums has always been well thought-out, consistent pieces of art. Even the disappointing Welcome To My DNA was a concept album that was to be looked at as an entity. Blackfield IV however is a different story.
With so many guest stars it is hardly surprising that the songs don't seem to have a common direction and are very diverse. That alone is not necessarily a bad thing but it can be really distracting when one song ends and instantly runs into another one that represents a completely different style and feel than the previous one. That feeling is only made more evident with all the songs being really short even by Blackfield's standards. The whole album is very short as a result, clocking in at merely 32 minutes.
Still, Aviv Geffen can be a great composer and he delivers some superb tracks here. The album opener "Pills" is one of the best tracks delivered by the band so far. Wilson and Geffen trade the lead vocalist role, with the latter taking the spotlight in the chorus. The song has a melancholic feel and is kind of reminiscent of Pink Floyd. It goes from the calm verse to the big, haunting chorus. The other stand-out track is the sole Wilson-only lead vocal delivery "Jupiter". The song's nostalgic lyrics, while not the most original, shine over the calm instrumentals. The chorus is very catchy, which is something that can be said about most of the songs on the album.
That's probably the biggest strength of the album - most of the songs will get stuck in your head for a long, long time. Geffen's ability to write memorable tunes is amazing especially when you compare it to Wilson's most recent releases that seem to lack this factor. Just listen to the rather obvious but nonetheless beautiful "Springtime". "X-Ray" is the track that features Vincent Cavanagh from Anathema making a guest appearance as a vocalist. It's similar to his band's most recent releases and could easily be a part of their Weather Systems album. All mentioned tracks have a rich orchestra-like backgrounds that make the listening experience richer. This can be heard on other tracks as well, but it doesn't make quite as much of an impact.
The albums' main flaws are the remaining songs that are either completely forgettable tracks like "Kissed By The Devil" and "Lost Souls" or songs that are basically just pop rock tunes that would feel less out of place on a Coldplay album like rather solid "The Sense Of Insanity" and the rather annoying "Faking". The other guest appearances don't bring much to the table either. Brett Anderson from Suede's track "Firefly" fails to catch listener's attention for more than a minute and Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donaue's "The Only Fool Is Me" is basically just a two-minute filler.
In the end Blackfield IV is an uneven record with one bad song for each great song. But taking into consideration the unsure status of the band at the time of recording and Wilson hardly participating, the album can be deemed successful and is a clear improvement over the lackluster Welcome To My DNA. It leaves the listener with a hope for greater things in the future. Still, 12 minutes of excellent material is not a lot.