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


Steve Hogarth


Crossover Prog

3.55 | 65 ratings

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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.

lazland | 4/5 |


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