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A few years back now, the former Japan keyboard player and the lead singer of Marillion met and became firm friends. Richard Barbieri (now keys man for Porcupine Tree) and Steve Hogarth (who replaced Fish in veteran British rock band Marillion in 1989) collaborated in 1997 on Hogarth's solo album Ice Cream Genius, with Barbieri adding his sounds to the songs, but 'Not the Weapon but the Hand' is a different project entirely. Thanks to the internet, the musicians sent files to each other, Barbieri sending his compositions to Hogarth, who took them as inspiration and set his lyrics and melodies to work over them.
The album has eight tracks, my copy is a signed hardback digibook, illustrated with obscure macro photographs of various implements and surface textures, along with the lyrics, and a couple of black and white portraits of the artists by Luigi Colasante Antonelli. The first 5000 pre-orders were very kindly signed by them!
A beautiful beginning, mainly piano, with guitar shading and string samples, with Hogarth's fragile delivery echoing the words, which describe the kite hanging in the air, and its superiority over man's feeble hurrying about. This is one of my favourite tacks, it is wonderfully atmospheric and evocative and it's easy to 'see' the scene in the mind's eye.
A CAT WITH SEVEN SOULS
An odd and humorously creepy one this, musically it reminds me a bit of Nine Inch Nails in creepy electronically groovy mode, but with a conspiratorial wink. Lyrically it's a musing on the many different sides of a person's character, and the difficulty of trying to figure them out. Musically and sonically this in a big space with an expansive, echoey collection of sounds and incidentals surrounding the sparse guitar melodies.
Starting quietly and continuing the creepy feeling, thoughts about what lies beneath all of life's rubbish (such as fear and stuff that we hide behind). It has a slow waltz rhythm, sounding a little like a fairground carousel, and puts me in mind of both Japan's song Ghosts and Marillion's Separated Out in terms of feel and even lyrically, until the covers come off and the key changes, the music swells and it goes from "Don't let them see me like this" to "Let them all se me like this! Naked as the day we were born again".
After being made to jump by the sudden loud intro, this settles into a loungy, shouty song about obsessive love, the type that drives partners away. The only true pop song on the album, it has hit written all over it and if there any justice in the world.... It's an excellently written song with a great vocal delivery and groove!
YOUR BEAUTIFUL FACE
We are taken back into dreamland, Barbieri's magical sounds and Dave Gregory's subtle guitar, moving from an occasional, wistful phrase into a slow Spanish rhythm as the song progresses. Hogarth reminisces about a beautiful face, how she turned her beauty into a weapon, but how she lost her power with age.
ONLY LOVE WILL MAKE YOU FREE
The album's mantra song - this is the second time Hogarth has done this, previously it was the title track of the Marillion album 'Happiness is the Road'. It starts with an African rhythm, with Hogarth doing a shaky, quite old-sounding talk-over before he (thankfully) starts to sing. It continues the liberation theme from 'Happiness', a continuing celebration of the realisation that he didn't have to carry the weight of the world's problems on his shoulders. On a more personal level it's a thoughtful reflection on the qualities of what love should and should not be: "Only fear ties you, only fear blinds you, only fear makes you angry, only fear makes you violent, hurts you" "If love blinds you, it ain't love, if love ties you, it ain't love, if love makes you angry, it ain't love" "Love, Joy Acceptance, Gratitude, Give up the hope of a better past! Only love can make you free". It's a song of commendable sentiments, only slightly let down by some David Icke moments in other parts of the song, and a slight concern that he's taking his fan-guru status a bit too seriously. Overall it does have the feel of an Eastern-tinged mantra with jingling bells and a very ethnic percussion sound courtesy of Chris Maitland and Arran Ahmun.
LIFTING THE LID
Slow, possibly the track that could slip under the radar as it makes no loud claims on your attention, but it's a bout re-birth, and the gradual nature of the change of life. Musically it reminds me of the overall atmosphere of The Blue Nile's album 'A Walk Across the Rooftops', dreamlike again, very atmospheric, and the more I listen to it the more gorgeous it sounds.
NOT THE WEAPON BUT THE HAND
A reprise of 'Your Beautiful Face', a brief reference back to the main point of the song, spoken over Barbieri's swelling and fading chords, like waves receding.
Extra track - INTERGALACTIC
This is a puzzle. I pre-ordered this album direct from their label Kscope through their distributors Burning Shed, and around the time of its initial release they announced that an extra track would be added to the retail release, which was this one. It was sent by Kscope (as a download link) to everyone who had pre-ordered the album. I'm not sure whether it was added after all as it isn't listen on Amazon or HMV, so it may be a hidden track? It is actually another pop song, a rollicking '80s retro number by two veterans of the era (Hogarth has also been in bands since the early 80s).
There have been a number of complaints from the Marillion fanbase about the lack of 'proper' singing on this album. Steve Hogarth is renowned for his soaring, impassioned vocals, and here he is often a great deal more thoughtful and quiet. However, when this album was originally announced, he implied that he might just be reading his lyrics over Barbieri's music! We actually have a LOT of singing, some of it way back as texture, and which may only be heard by those who are patient enough to listen carefully. It's certainly not one to blast from a tiny phone's speakers - hi-fidelity is most definitely required. There are all sorts of vocals and vocal treatments that crop up on here, and repeated listens definitely reveal more of them, as some impassioned singing has been relegated to the back of the mix and can barely be heard. It's one to sit in a quiet room, close your eyes and just listen to. A lot of the foreground singing comes across as quite fragile, but lyrically you get the feeling that he's in a pretty good place personally these days.
Richard Barbieri's musical compositions work so well with Hogarth's lyrics and melodies that it's hard to imagine this as a solo instrumental album. His two previous solo releases have been just that. His skills in creating sounds and soundscapes have been used to great effect not just by Japan in the late 70s / early 80s, but also in David Sylvian's solo work, No-Man's 1992 track 'Heaven Taste' (as part of Jansen Barbieri Karn), Hogarth's first album, and his current band Porcupine Tree, to name a few! Steve Hogarth gave him a wizard's hat to wear during the recording of Ice Cream Genius because of the magical sounds he brought to augment his songs. I feel that they're a perfect combination as artists, as each complements and augments the other. I didn't expect to love this album as much as I do, but have found myself listening to it repeatedly, and being absorbed by the atmosphere and curious honesty of it. Steve Hogarth has long been one of my favourite singers and lyricists, and this album, having grown on me significantly, has only added to my admiration. I very much hope the do this again one day!
Steve Hogarth - Voice/Words, Dulcimer, Tambourine, Shakers
Richard Barbieri - Music
Dave Gregory (ex-XTC) - Electric Guitar, Bass Guitar, sampled string arrangements
Danny Thompson - Double Bass
Arran Ahmun - Drums, additional percussion
Chris Maitland - Drums
Michael Hunter - additional percussion programming
Suzanne Barbieri - Vocal samples