Review Summary: “Pop’s most ridiculous star” records his most extravagant and captivating album yet.
I’ve always been a fan of Patrick Wolf, but at the same time, I’ve always had to clarify just which
Patrick Wolf I’m referring to. On the one hand, there’s the rather kitschy fellow whose ever evolving repertoire of hair dye and wardrobe changes have been the subject of public adoration and scorn; the one who once expressed his annoyance that nobody could seem to see that he was in fact, ‘the new Madonna’; the same Patrick Wolf whom in a (in)famous fit of frustration announced his retirement, only to retract it a day later to the bewilderment of his fans everywhere. Now that
Patrick Wolf, I’ll admit, I’ve always been a bit weary of. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the time when Wolf was not just ‘Pop’s most ridiculous star’ as the Guardian has recently dubbed him, but an insular and insecure music maker whose stunningly evocative music crept from the shadows of the industry to garner a cult following beyond all expectations. The charm of course, like everything else probably lies somewhere in between, and on the musical side at least, The Bachelor
marks a culmination of everything Wolf has always sold himself to be, and my, what a musical statement it is.
If Wolf’s last album, The Magic Position
was the artist embracing life perhaps a little too enthusiastically after his deeply introspective early works, The Bachelor
exhibits the same confidence without Magic
’s rainbow-fairycake naivety and comes out better because of it. If anything, the Wolf is out of his cave and determinedly angry at those who’ve kept him in there for so long – As he so ardently declares to flailing guitar rock of “Battle”: ‘Since I was twelve, and me versus the world, I got so sick of being told my identity was a minority… and now we’ve got a battle… its time’. It’s time indeed, and Wolf isn’t about to let you forget it. Whereas earlier records draped themselves in a cloak of naked emotion and marked with the eerie trace of a boy finding his place in the world, The Bachelor
oozes with ambition, sprawling with multi-layered instrumental compositions and comes out with all guns blazing. If it’s any sign, the opening salvo features a triad of some of the most powerful, hard hitting songwriting done by Wolf to date, as songs like “Hard Times” drip with the passion of self realization and “The Bachelor” plods to the heavy beat of angry defiance.
But as with most Wolf records, the main ingredients have been left in place – subtle electronics, multi instrumental complexity, as well as his distinctively British ornamented vocals and unmissable weaving violin. And as before, Wolf is still the quintessential songwriter’s songwriter, twisting and turning his sound along with every musical narrative and leaving no room for filler. Accordingly, it’s almost impossible to pigeonhole The Bachelor
into any one mood – “Blackdown”’s gorgeous piano balladry eventually gives way to Wolf’s take on traditional Celtic dance, flutes, handclaps and all, while lead single “Vultures” kicks itself off with the pulse of electronic thumps before descending into a dance themed frolicker that will undoubtedly find its way into indie clubs around the world. Not one to leave other stones unturned either, “Battle” is without a doubt the closest Wolf has ever come to writing an all out headbangin’ rock song with its crunchy guitar riffing and driving drumming paving the way for a chorus of Wolf’s shouting “Battle! Battle! Battle!... Cry!” before ending with a falsetto howl that would make Muse’s Matt Bellamy blush with pride.
While older fans may be left floundering and questioning just where the old minimalist Wolf has stalked off too, The Bachelor
is nevertheless the natural progression of an artist who has time and time again exceeded expectations. Even those who were disappointed by The Magic Position
can’t deny that it still contained one of the best tracks ever set to record, the stunning “Magpie”. Besides, its not as if The Bachelor
has lost all sense of grace either – “Thickets” is richly textured masterpiece of spiraling melodies and beautifully laid out songwriting, while “The Sun Is Often Out” towers above the albums second half as a riveting display of melancholy, punctured only by the theme of hope that shines through its seemingly bleak façade. Among it all is also Wolf’s seemingly newfound love for choral accompaniment, as backing choirs imbue the album with a majestic sweep of grandeur and a wailing sense of self-assurance, perhaps most effectively on “Damaris” as a wall of people offer a stirring a cry of “Rise up, Rise Up!”. Given the stunning work that is The Bachelor
, it’s a call it seems that Wolf himself has taken up. Immersed in complexity and drowned in haunted beauty, The Bachelor then is truly a case of ‘Like Record, Like Songwriter’: A rousing vessel in which Wolf has finally had the chance to channel his newfound zany confidence into his most extravagant and captivating record yet.