Steve Hogarth / Richard Barbieri - 'Not The Weapon But The Hand'

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Steve Hogarth / Richard Barbieri - 'Not The Weapon But The Hand'

Quite stunning...

The Marillion and Porcupine Tree camps have in recent years spawned a rather impressive amount of extracurricular projects, with Transatlantic, Kino, DeeExpus, Blackfield, and OSI, among others all making some increasingly intricate and impressive music. However back in 1997 Marillion singer Steve Hogarth teamed up with Porcupine Tree synth wizard Richard Barbieri, for the vocalists first and so far only solo album ‘Ice Cream Genius’. On the whole that release was Marillion-lite, with a Pop sensibility dominating the odd Art-Rock element, making for a fun, if unessential listen. Since then the pair have frequently spoken about working together again, although it has taken fifteen years for the fruits of their labours to result in an album’s worth of material, which is almost as far removed from their previous collaboration as it possibly could be.

Pleasingly different from Marillion and P-Tree, ‘Not The Weapon But The Hand’ is a dark, eerie exploration of moods, textures and atmospheres that relies more on creating expansive washes of sound, than it does conventional songs. Progressive could be one way to describe it, but synth led Art-Rock may well be closer to the mark. Far from being instant, ‘NTWBTH’ is a real grower of an album, with a crystal clear and at times intentionally unnerving sound being beautiful, expansive, yet somehow claustrophobic and oppressive at the same time. Hogarth thrives in this sparse, moody setting, with his voice being a beacon of light, if not always hope, in the gloom - an effect that is doubled when he contrasts his stunning vocals with an evocative narrative style which he uses to speak many of the lyrics.

Sliding beautifully from song to song, this is an album that demands to be listened to in its entirety, with the mood created ebbing, flowing and building as the music progresses.

Album opener ‘Red Kite’ sets the tone in stunningly patient style, with its seven minutes never getting beyond a gentle, ambient shimmer as gentle synth themes are punctuated by Hogarth’s vocals and whispers. The theme is continued into ‘A Cat With Seven Souls’ and ‘Naked’ which are ever so slightly more forceful and melodic, before ‘Crack’ does exactly that, juddering you out of the sleepy dreamy atmosphere with a force that is made all the more stark by what it follows. ‘Your Beautiful Face’ again flourishes through its sparseness, making the beautiful, building string infused chorus of ‘Only Love Will Make You Free’ almost painful in contrast. ‘Lifting The Lid’ adds the merest hint of crawling jazz, something beautifully counterpointed by the short yet stunning title track which brings the atmosphere right back to where we started, before ‘Intergalactic’ closes things out on a serious, yet poppy note.

Even with the hugely impressive catalogue that Hogarth and Barbieri have amassed over the years, I have no hesitation in suggesting that ‘Not The Weapon But The Hand’ is one of the best albums that either has ever been involved with. Quite stunning...

Steven Reid

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