Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri met a while back, when Porcupine Tree was supporting Marillion on tour. Hogarth, as a young lad, was fascinated by Japan's synthesizer sound, played by Barbieri, and asked him to join his solo project Ice Cream Genius, back in 1997. From then on they became friends. This new venture was an idea of Barbieri, which he had a few years ago. That it took all this time to actually take place, is of course due to both of their careers. Richard Barbieri is the keyboard player for Porcupine Tree and Steve Hogarth the lead singer of Marillion since 1989.
Not The Weapon But The Hand is best understood when you are familiar with all the heretofore named bands and of course with Barbieri's two very experimental and instrumental solo albums Things Buried and Stranger Inside. Yet, one can't possibly compare the music with Marillion, Japan, or Porcupine Tree. It may have some similarities with Ice Cream Genius, but this album is much more mature and balanced. Where Barbieri is the master of weird soundscapes, Hogarth is the man with the beautiful voice and it comes together perfectly in dreamy songs, best described as Marillion meets Kate Bush! Especially when you know her last album 50 Words For Snow.
To me there is a distinct Marillion feeling as well, automatically when hearing Hogarth sing. Marillion has made dreamy songs, for example on their last abum Happiness Is The Road, volume 1. But I'd say Kate Bush, because Marillion ain't so danceable. Besides, I think of Steve Hogarth as the male equivalent of Kate Bush. His voice is as characteristic and it took me a while to see and hear it, apart from Marillion and its reference. Not The Weapon But The Hand may have a leading theme, but is not a concept album. The songs stand on their own, unlike Marillion's Happiness Is The Road Volume 1: Essence. Sadly I can't say anything about the lyrics, as the promo I was given, had no booklet.
The album consists of 8 songs with a total playing time of 47 minutes. The first song Red Kite is where I get that Kate Bush feeling the most. In my opinion this is the strongest song on the album probably because of Barbieri's beautiful playing and the string arrangements. The mood is set and Hogarth's voice, emotional and intense, gives the musical experience a face. At first listening there is not much of a melody, but after playing it several times you discover the many musical and vocal layers, which makes it progressive rock. Or maybe post progressive rock like their label Kscope likes to call it-mesmerizing in any case. Lunatic Soul-another band from the same label-comes to mind too.
The second song A Cat With Seven Souls reminds me the most of Ice Cream Genius, but in a good way, thanks to a groovy beat. Naked has the same feel, with probably the best melody. Crack is the most rocky song on the album. Leading theme is Your Beautiful Face. Hogarth is whispering and it sounds almost as poetry, spoken word. Here's also the interpretation of the album title: It's not the weapon that does the damage, but in who's hand it rests. At the end of the album we hear it again in the title track. Only Love Will Make You Free is a bit spooky and the lyrics plus melody remind me of some Marillion songs. Lifting The Lid is again very dreamy and beautiful and takes you back to the beginning of the album.
Having said that, I'm not sure this album will appear in my year end list. Between the first song and the last, the album cannot capture my attention for the whole 47 minute journey. There seem to be some weaker parts too. If there weren't, it would have been a psychedelic experience! The duration of it all is just too short to take me away on a musical trip, I guess. Hearing H's voice alone does not do the trick for me, unlike for some others. Although I must admit there are moments which are very hypnotic. Only time can tell if it grows towards a deeper understanding.
Not The Weapon But The Hand was completed in late 2011 and features appearances from Danny Thompson on double bass, Arran Ahmun (John Martyn) and Chris Maitland (ex Porcupine Tree) on drums and Dave Gregory (XTC) on guitar, bass and string arrangements. Be sure to play it loud!
**** Janke Rijpkema (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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