Review Summary: The Magic Position celebrates rather than laments. Patrick Wolf has discovered major keys!
When I first heard the pounding percussive intro of opening track Overture
, I immediately thought of a piece of concert band music I played a few months ago entitled Dansereye by Renaissance composer Tielman Susato. Its opening movement, a simple fanfare, begins with majestic timpani that brings enough power and intensity to the song in seconds that the brilliant trumpet fanfare can sit on top gloriously. Overture
is a bit more modern than Dansereye. For one, this opening statement uses electronic drums rather than orchestral timpani. Instead of leading into a majestic fanfare, this settles into a simple groove and more reflective strings bring the first melody to the song. Still, both percussive openings begin an epic musical statement (Dansereye has many, many movements) that celebrates and glorifies the human spirit.
Patrick Wolf, a 23-year-old Englishman, lives the typical life of a troubled, angsty young artist. He left his home at an early age, approximately age 16, only to go busking in the streets of London in a string quartet. After experimenting in various projects of different musical styles, Patrick Wolf found himself most comfortable at the head of his own solo project. His first two albums, albums of melancholy sadness, met plenty of critical acclaim. Two years after Wind in the Wire, he released The Magic Position. Just at the release of the album, Wolf announced his bisexuality, a potent catalyst that explains the openness with which he composed The Magic Position. Ranging from dense electronica to stark piano ballads to an amalgamation of indie pop, electronica, and concert orchestra, The Magic Position envisions a magical world where Wolf has everything he could ever want at his disposal.
Despite being 23, it seems Mr. Wolf has a life’s worth of experiences to tell, as The Magic Position sounds like an old soul reflecting upon life and everything it has to offer. Eponymous track The Magic Position
states that Wolf has found “the major key”, and that is both literal and figurative. He writes most of the album with cheery, celebratory melodies in major keys, but he never gets too cheesy as many artists fear with writing in major keys. He has a great ear for melody and it shows on songs like Accident and Emergency
. The chorus presents a motif played by many instruments throughout the song, a simple four-note melody veiled under lush electronica and a full drum beat. Towards the end of the song, bright, brassy trombones take the melody and add regality to the song that makes it slightly climatic. Later in the album, Get Lost
begins with annoying, monotonous beeping, but the trombones return accompanied by guitar chords from an island paradise. Despite the opening, keyboards from archaic video game melodies and a handclap-laden drum beat take instrumental prominence. Lyrically, Get Lost describes essentially the perfect relationship- one where Wolf and his lover can enjoy their time together just because they are together.
The album falls into a somber section in the middle, highlighted with the two tracks Magpie
. Magpie brings in guest vocalist Marianne Faithfull, whose tone contrasts heavily with Wolf’s, but she adds some variety to the album. She shares about half of the song with Wolf, but her sections have much sparser instrumentation. The lyrics read almost like a conversation between the two, with Marianne giving advice to the disillusioned Patrick. Unlike the mystical Magpie
takes a much more direct approach, becoming simply a perfectly crafted song that builds from placid acoustic chords and dismal piano strikes to huge piano arpeggios and luscious strings. The chorus puts the entire band in rhythmic unison while Wolf sings simple lyrics (“Oh, my Augustine!”) like a pleading anthem. Each verse offers different instrumentation and constantly changes, never getting repetitive. His lyrics go off on long, extended phrases, comparing love to a nurturing mother for about an entire verse. However, the lyrics do not make the song here; it is the brilliant composition and production skills applied to this song.
For the most part, The Magic Position celebrates life and love, resurging in hope after the dismal middle section with Enchanted
and The Stars
. Its faults come with many boring transition tracks that go nowhere like Secret Garden
and The Kiss
, as well as the lacking second half of the album after Augustine
. The full songs are good, but not the quality of the first half. Sadly, Wolf has announced that The Magic Position will be his final album. Although it seems contradictory to his closing statements on the album, “Look up! Look up! The stars tonight!” it seems Wolf wants to leave in a happy state of mind. Maybe this is how he wants people to remember him, a man celebrating the positive aspects of life.