Wednesday, May 27

Patrick Wolf- 'The Bachelor'

. Wednesday, May 27

for Pretty Much Amazing

In a world of beige and plaid Patrick Wolf is a welcome jolt of uncompromising extravagance. From his debut record ‘Lycanthropy’ in 2003 to the present day Wolf has flirted with extremes, a male Grace Jones, a combination of techno and folk, a West London celebrity, an forest child obsessed with Berlin and Bjork- Patrick Wolf has done it all. This refusal to be pigeon holed or categorised was always going to cause relations with a major label to become fractious and following his expensive and ubiquitous third album ‘The Magic Position’ peaking at just #69 in the UK (ironically the same position as the lo-fi and unmarketed single ‘The Libertine’) Wolf was unceremoniously dropped.

Where some would seek solace in solitude, retreating to a safe zone and making the music people expect to hear from them Wolf has used the break as liberation, an escape from the machinery that never suited his naturalistic tendencies. Taking the unapproved material recorded for the follow up to ‘The Magic Position’ as alimony from Universal Wolf struck upon a unique and forward thinking way of releasing the record. It couldn’t really have been any other way. BandStocks is the method, a fan funded label that entitles people who invest £10 in ‘The Bachelor’ to a copy of the album, merchandise, gig tickets and a stake in the record itself. This cash injection allowed Wolf a way to see his music take flight, away from the boardroom bores who had deemed his work unsuitable for the market. Quite what they were failing to see is confusing to say the least; perhaps they took umbrage to the sheer volume of it? ‘The Bachelor’ is the first of a double release with a further LP, ‘The Conqueror’, due for release in 2010. The reason for the wealth of material was Wolf falling in love during the recording process of an album originally titled ‘Battle’ distracting him from his initial album of songs inspired by depression.

‘The Bachelor’ certainly comes across as an album powered by the onset of romance, it’s full of optimism, vigour and passion- Wolf sounds liberated and confident throughout. He has roped in a series of friends too including Alec Empire, Eliza Carthy and most intriguing of all Hollywood/ indie actress Tilda Swinton. Whilst Empire and Carthy represent the juxtaposition driving Wolf’s musical leanings, the cold hard techno rhythms and the wistful yearning of traditional folk, it is perhaps Swinton who compliments Wolf and his music the most. She plays the voice of Hope throughout ‘The Bachelor’, drifting through the record with an ethereal presence, her cut glass accent adding gravitas on every occasion. With this roaming, rag-tag bunch of waifs and strays wandering around ‘The Bachelor’ it would be easy to lose track of Wolf however he demands attention at all times with his rich vocals and complete unpredictability. ‘The Bachelor’ kicks off properly with the anthemic and string driven ‘Hard Times’ with the epic refrain of “Revolution!” coursing throughout. Guitars, an instrument not normally associated with Wolf’s previous output, make their first appearance on ‘Hard Times’ too, the pungent whiff of revolution is truly in the air. As ‘Hard Times’ gives way to the metronomic beats of ‘Oblivion’ Tilda Swinton’ floats into the foreground for the first time, her spoken word parts interspersed with the stabbing words of Wolf doing battle with those pounding electronic drums. Another guest emerges on the albums title track, electronic pioneer Mathew Herbert providing his idiosyncratic growl to a pounding backing track amidst swooping violins and Wolf sparring in the background. Symptomatic of the album this track is thickly layered and rich with depth and soul.

As the album progresses more accomplished and experimental works come to the fore. Never one to shy away from the avant-garde Wolf has certainly dipped his toe into the pool of indulgence on ‘The Bachelor’ without properly getting his toes wet. You suspect that if the forthcoming second album ‘The Conqueror’ is an ode to the on-the-road melancholy Wolf suffered from when promoting his ‘Magic Position’ then a ‘Disintegration’ style black pit of doom is upon us and much more open to the experimental side of Wolf’s artistry. Yes, ‘The Bachelor’ is a pop album indeed. For example, ‘Damaris’ is a soaring and cinematic ballad with a beautiful string section set against a deeply moving vocal and sweet choral backing- it’s one of Wolf’s finest moments to date. ‘Count Of Casualty’ feels similar in an over blown and camp fashion but where ‘Damaris’ is natural and free ‘Count..’ is steel and wires, each processed beat sounding like a human heart bursting through a chest. As the record comes to a close it perhaps overstays its welcome somewhat with a few extraneous songs somehow avoiding the cutting room floor (‘Blackdown’, ‘The Messenger’) whilst the more extreme collaborations with Alec Empire (‘Vulture’. ‘Battle’) rub their leather boots uncomfortably against the more sedate and dignified side of the record.

That is Patrick Wolf all over though, a man who can spend time on the cliffs and mountain tops with a violin and a broken heart then with the click of a sequencer be in an S&M techno club thrusting and gyrating. A man of contradictions, an artist of immense talent- ‘The Bachelor’ is back on track.

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