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Steve Hogarth - Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri: Not The Weapon But The Hand CD (album) cover


Steve Hogarth

Crossover Prog

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4 stars Although classified on the site as a Steve Hogarth solo work, it must be stressed that this is a collaboration between Hogarth, Marillion's lead singer since 1989, and Richard Barbieri, the keyboardist with Porcupine Tree. Barbieri did, in fact, guest on Hogarth's excellent solo debut, Ice Cream Genius, but this is the product of joint efforts. It should also be stressed that people reading this expecting me to describe a work bringing the best of these two excellent bands into one glorious Marillion meets PT will be somewhat disappointed, for this excellent album bears hardly any resemblance to the duo's day jobs, which I state as a good thing. In fact, much here actually bears more of a resemblance to one of Barbieri's previous acts, Japan. Throw in some other interesting guest spots, notably Dave Gregory of XTC (who also appeared on Ice Cream Genius) and Chris Maitland on drums, and what you have here is something rather unique.

This album has, perhaps surprisingly for what are the loyalist bunch of fans on God's earth, attracted a bit of sharp criticism on the Marillion fan forum, with one correspondent going so far as to describe it as boring. Is it? No. What it is is thoughtful, complex, at turns deeply dark and disturbing, and at others uplifting, but never anything less than interesting for those who appreciate something a bit different.

I love the opener, Red Kite. This is a very strong piece of music, and one that, perhaps, resonates with me strongly as a resident of Wales. For this magnificent bird was wiped out in my country for many years until its reintroduction, with special status, a few years ago, and it is thankfully now thriving, spreading all over the gorgeous Welsh countryside. The keyboards and Hogarth's lyrics beautifully and poignantly describe the majesty of this wonderful creature, I personally have spent many a moment watching this bird "hanging in the air" whilst allowing the world to rush by, and the lyrical and musical interpretation of these moments is spot on.

A Cat With Seven Souls follows, featuring a pulsating bass line and interesting sound effects providing an almost dreamy/trancy backdrop to a track which reminds me of Japan to a degree, and is a meditational dialogue. The distorted riff and vocals at the close are rather disturbing.

Naked is another slow burner, and deeply reflective. I take the lyrics to mean bearing one's own soul, rather than a stripping of the physical form. The "don't let them see me like this" passage is very dark, and the piano, especially, reflects this mood very well. The alto pitch accompanying comes across as a cry for help. The track fades out to percussive and synth sound effects, somewhat exhausted after the crescendo that preceded.

Crack steps up the tempo, with something as far removed from Marillion & Porcupine Tree as it is possible to get. A song with the blues at its heart, with Hogarth's voice distorted at times to add a menacing undertone, as he invites his subject to leave. This is a very complex piece of music, whose riffy late section needs to be played very loudly in the dark to get the full benefit. The close is mesmerising with urgent bass and drums vying against a chant.

Your Beautiful Face is a highlight of the album, and it's lyrical core. The guitar work is deceptively simple, sublimely backing a spoken lyric prior to the main section kicking in. The tone of the song at this stage is, to me, more upbeat, and I believe it to be a love song, speaking of happy, loving, times, prior to the close where it becomes deeply reflective on past beauty and the hand which destroyed that beauty. Essentially a love poem set against music, this is thoughtful and quite unlike virtually anything else you will hear this year.

The longest track on the album is Only Love Will Make You Free, clocking in a over eight minutes long. The start reminds me of a Talking Heads track whose name I forget, but then develops into a piece which is perhaps the closest to a "traditional" Marillion song, circa Marillion.Com or Anoraknophobia. Even so, saying this, it is hard to imagine the band themselves performing it in the fashion presented here. I love the lyrics, imploring us and the world to reject war, hate, and pain, and embrace love. The vocal effects on top of the lyrics are deeply complex and lifting, and the symphonic keys set against a throbbing rhythm give rise to easily the most upbeat track on the album. After a few listens, the true beauty of the track really shines through, and there is one hell of a lot going on in here. There is a passage which, by contrast, is dark and forbidding before the main section kicks in again to close the track, lifting spirits once more.

Lifting The Lid is experimental, strange, and full of sound effects. I can only describe it as New Age music for the 2010's, with some lovely ambient soundscapes being created and, for once on the album, I don't feel that Hogarth's vocal lead really matches this. I know, it's a sin to say it, but this might have been a more effective track had it been left as an instrumental with the more effective vocal effects left in. It is, also, extremely dark as a piece of music.

The short closer, the title track, returns us to the reflective passage of Your Beautiful Face, at old age, well past beauty, with the hand that fired the deed, not the weapon itself, truly responsible.

So, who would this album appeal to?

Well, certainly if you are not a fan of Steve Hogarth already, this album will do nothing to convert you. Also, if you are looking to get laid with a new partner tonight, this might not be the best album to play him/her.

It is a deep and complex affair, but one that is rewarded with repeated listens. It is a collaboration between two of modern progressive rock's finest exponents and minds. Just don't go exploring the inside of those minds too much. What you find might not, I feel, be to your liking, as this is, in the main, very dark.

Four stars for this album. It is excellent. It is different. It is a sight better than you might first imagine, and fans of eclectic prog, certainly Hamill and VDGG might find a lot to enjoy here.

Report this review (#646744)
Posted Monday, March 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars Back in 1989 my brother bought me a casette of 'Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe'. It was a revelation, and made me realise that the eighties (for me at least) had been a waste of time musically.

ABWH was, of course, 'classic' (sort of) Yes, but more importantly, the SOUND of Prog...

Moving on 23 years, I admit to being 'taken in', by a demo that included the first song, 'Red kite.' A combination of the worthy voice of Steve Hogarth, combined with some 'moody' keyboards. The concept seemed interesting.

I say taken in, because the rest of the album is rather like a combination of the band Japan, and the album 'Vespertine' by Bjork, where some electronic pulses are mated with vocals and extra sounds to complete a song.

Eventually, we got back to the sound that I was originally hoping for, only to find that it was half a song, and the finale 'Not the weapon but the hand.'

My point here, is that this album is closer to 'Pop', than to 'Rock'. You think that you are venturing down a 'worthy' path (because the album's been made by artists associated with Prog), but in reality, it is a fruitless, hollow trip.

Report this review (#659535)
Posted Thursday, March 15, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Before Not the Weapon but the Hand was released, I read somewhere that Hogarth and Barbieri described their collaborative album as, "go[ing] beyond what you might expect from the two of us." Despite the duo's claim, this release was almost exactly what I was expecting from the union of PT's keyboardist and Marillion's less aquatic front man; and that's not a bad thing at all.

Musically, Barbieri constructs very sparse and unassuming soundscapes that rarely demand the listener's attention. Instead, it is the listener's duty to explore the sonic layers that serve as NTWBTH's base. The waves of sampled strings, subtly keyboard riffs, and understated percussion and bass parts combine to create music that relaxes the listener while simultaneously serving as a solid foundation for Hogarth's voice. With the music being so cognitively unobtrusive, Hogarth seems to be the album's star on the first view listens. (After a number of spins, the clever nuances of the music will become more noticeable.) H's vocals on this release often ride a fine line between singing and spoken word. This is, however, not a problem as Hogarth's emotional delivery and soothing voice make even his spoken monologues enjoyable. The singer's decisions of where to place his vocals reflect the atmospheric nature of Barbieri's music, opting for few short, well-placed stanzas rather than overpowering the album with busy vocal arrangements and rambling soliloquies.

The album's title comes from "Your Beautiful Face," a song with scathing lyrics about a woman who uses her looks to get what she wants. Elsewhere, Hogarth focuses on topics such as the power of love ("Only love will make you free/Only fear hurts you") and vulnerability ("Beneath these shapeless clothes/Between these butterfly wings/Behind that nervous smile/ We're all naked"),while in other places, the lyrics are completely abstract ("Surreal alien's trigonometry against the fields/Waiting patiently for flying saucers').

For me, the standout songs on this album are "Naked" and "Only Love Will Make You Free". "Naked" begins with a hypnotic grove that gradually builds and decays throughout the song's six minute duration climaxing with a beautiful arrangement of piano, synths, drums, and some especially impassioned vocals. "Only Love Will Make You Free," the longest song on the record, features some of the catchiest music on NTWBTH and benefits greatly from the contributions of Dave Gregory (XTC) and Chris Maitland (ex-PT). "Cracked" also deserves a mention, as it is by far the album's most active track and serves to add a different texture to Hogarth and Barbieri's collaboration.

This is a solid three star album. There really are no surprises considering who the key players are, but nevertheless this still made a very enjoyable listening experience. Fans of Porcupine Tree, Japan, Barbieri's solo work, and Hogarth-era Marillion should certainly investigate this album. However, I can't see it appealing to people unfamiliar with the two names on the cover.

Report this review (#748037)
Posted Thursday, May 3, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars In progressive rock circles, you'll have a tough time finding too many modern acts adored as much as Marillion and Porcupine Tree. Both bands have rightfully earned massive cult followings over the past roughly three decades, and a collaboration between the lead singer from one and the keyboard player from the other is bound to be met with some high expectations - enter Not The Weapon But The Hand, an album released in early 2012 with the names Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri on the cover. Although I wasn't even aware of this collaboration until stumbling upon a review after its release (most likely due to ignorance on my part!), I immediately had to check it out as both of these musicians have become favorites of mine over the past few years. Not The Weapon But The Hand had some high expectations from my end, and although it's vastly different from what most listeners may expect from Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri, the result is stunning nonetheless.

For those unfamiliar with the names in question, Steve Hogarth has been the lead singer of progressive rock act Marillion since 1989, and Richard Barbieri played in Japan for numerous years before joining Porcupine Tree in 1993. Hogarth and Barbieri have worked together before on Hogarth's 1997 solo album Ice Cream Genius, but this is the first formal collaboration between these two musicians. We're obviously dealing with experienced and extremely gifted performers just by those credentials alone, but Not The Weapon But The Hand adds a whole new chapter into their extensive musical histories. This is a mature, moody, and introspective work of brilliance that will take quite a bit of time to sink in for those without the patience to appreciate the deep songwriting and intricate atmospheres presented throughout this bold artistic statement.

Make no mistake - Not The Weapon But The Hand is not by any means a mix of the progressive alt. rock of recent Marillion and the heavy space prog of newer Porcupine Tree efforts, and those going in with those types of expectations will likely be disappointed. Not The Weapon But The Hand is not 'prog' in a traditional sense; I'd venture to say that this album instead represents a meeting point between new age, ambient, progressive rock, and alternative rock, with a heavy emphasis on the 'ambient' portion. Not The Weapon But The Hand isn't an aggressive sounding album by any stretch, and nearly the entire observation focuses on creating dreamy atmospherics and mesmerizing soundscapes. Those who consider themselves fans of Lunatic Soul (an ambient rock project from Riverside's Mariusz Duda) should equally enjoy what Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri have crafted on Not The Weapon But The Hand.

Albums that aim most of their focus towards atmospherics and subtle compositions tend to be a mixed bag for me, but Not The Weapon But The Hand is an example of how such an approach sounds when done right. Steve Hogarth's vocals are as expressive, emotional, and gut-wrenching as we've come to expect from him, and Richard Barbieri's multi-layered and meticulously thoughtful keyboard arrangements never allow the compositions to sink into 'background music'. While Not The Weapon But The Hand is an excellent listen for relaxation or meditation, it also serves as an exceptional 'headphone' album for those looking for a soothing album that still challenges the mind. The almost inhumanly pure sound production suits the beautiful nature of the compositions perfectly, with the spot-on mixing never sounding off by even the slightest degree. Every time I've ever listened to Not The Weapon But The Hand, I've been by myself with a pair of good headphones and roughly 45 minutes to kill in a quiet room - this isn't an album for all occasions by any stretch, but I can't think of very many albums that I'd want to hear before this one when it comes to a solitary, meditative experience.

Alongside Hogarth and Barbieri, there are also a handful of guest musicians that, while not nearly as prominent, exceed their call of duty. The clever basslines from Danny Thompson and Dave Gregory (who also provides some nice atmospheric guitar work and string arrangements) and the subtle drum parts provided by Arran Ahmun and Chris Maitland help make the compositions feel even more dynamic and fully realized; when these instruments do appear, they truly are integral parts of the music.

Of course, none of this would matter if the compositions were dry and lifeless, but thankfully the exact opposite is true. Not The Weapon But The Hand is an extremely personal and emotional album, both musically and lyrically, and the songs thrive on strong melodic foundations and remarkable arrangements. Songs like "Red Kite", "Your Beautiful Face", and "Only Love Will Make You Free" especially stand out - it's very easy to lose yourself in the multi-layered soundscapes of these tracks in particular. The rest of this rather thematic album also maintains a similar level of quality; Not The Weapon But The Hand is a great listen from start to finish, and the only way to experience everything the album has to offer is in one focused listen. It's tough to do an observation with this much attention to detail any justice at all without providing it with your full, undivided attention.

After enjoying Not The Weapon But The Hand for months now, I finally found it appropriate to write my thoughts down in the form of a review. For some reason or another, this album has slipped under the radar of most prog listeners, but hopefully my words have convinced at least one person to go out and buy it. Although it may be different from what many may expect from Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri, the end result is nothing short of stunning. Not The Weapon But The Hand is quite simply one of the best fusions of new age atmospherics and progressive rock complexity that I've ever heard.

Report this review (#786218)
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Steve Hogarth (Marillion) and Richard Barbieri (Japan, Porcupine Tree) worked previously in the first solo album of Steve h. "Ice Cream Genious", that time Barbieri only participated as a guest musician, this type they worked together as a duo and the result is really nice. Not the weapon But the Hand is an album full of environmental nuances, a low register voice in Hogarth, a lot of programming by Richard Barbieri and songs that are full of insight and retrospective. My favorite track is NAKED along with the video, which is a real thoughtful song. Crack is the only song in the album that has a high spirit. The song Only Love Will Set You Free has a lot of Marillion style in the vocal and musical arrangements, the rest of the album you have to be ready to sit back and relax, and by the way, you should use your headphones and forget about the world, this album is completely written for that.
Report this review (#1020538)
Posted Monday, August 19, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Lots of haunting vocals, sparse programming, especially recommended to listeners who like 50 Words For Snow.

This is primarily a vocal album. Hogarth is often barely accompanied by other sounds. The atmosphere is quite haunting. To me the album seems extremely personal, dark and sparse. As a vocalist Hogarth tells stories here more than that he sings songs. I think it is a great album, one that invokes a lot of feelings.

In my opinion, this album is remarkably similar to 50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush in mood and style. That's why I would recommend it to anyone who likes that album. That might be a very subjective assessment though. Not The Weapon But The Hand seems to be a very emotional affair after all, especially for a prog album.

Report this review (#1529544)
Posted Monday, February 15, 2016 | Review Permalink

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