Review Summary: Growing up, growing older, with treasure to be told.
I do this thing where I pair up musicians and authors. It's not really concrete in my head; that is, I can't actually come up with a big list of paired-up artists on command. Most of the time I never actually do pair them up; the thoughts are just too fleeting to be able to follow them to a conclusion. So really it's more of a general feeling I get when I'm reading a book. Certain sentences or phrasings will start a song playing in my mind, but I'll unconsciously work to shut it off because I can't have music playing while I read, even if it's only in my head. The mood of a book can do it as well, which makes my thoughts even more abstract and thus harder to remember. The pairings, for the most part, dissolve after I put down the book, but there is one that sticks with me: Patrick Wolf and Vladimir Nabokov. It has nothing to do with what
Nabokov wrote, but with how he seemed to approach writing as a joyful thing, alive and breathing.
That's always how I've envisioned Patrick Wolf approaching his music: as a wholly natural extension of himself. I get the sense that each album is already complete inside of him, and he needs only to extract them when the time is right. As he sang on Lycanthropy
: They are marching out of me, one by one. It makes sense then, that his career has been pocked with a few bleak moments. The hissy fits, the threats of retirement. Unfortunate, but expected, perhaps even welcome, considering that if he didn't let those emotions boil to the surface at times, his music might not be so good. What also makes sense, in a frustrating sort of way, is the many predictions he made regarding both Lupercalia
and The Bachelor
. He was releasing a double album called Battle
, and then he was splitting it up into two albums - The Bachelor
, full of loneliness and melancholy, and The Conqueror
, full of love - and then it was only The Bachelor
, with the next album left unnamed and separate. But rather than distancing fans, such flights of fancy inspire a tender sort of long-suffering from them, because they are evidence that Patrick's creative prowess, however quick to speak at times, has not been diminished. Of course
he would say that he'd release a double album and then completely scrap the idea when he got to a different stage in his life. It's how the creative process works. The Bachelor
burned inside of him for awhile, and then that fire was put out in favor of a new one.
Really though, Lupercalia
seems similar to how The Conqueror
would have turned out, at least in subject matter. It's a record full of love songs, and it has a sense of originality about it that is quite welcome. What's interesting is that it's not the kind of originality that you'd expect. The Bachelor
had a sound that was almost archaic, borrowing old ideas from all across Europe, from England to Ireland, Patrick breathing life into them and making them fresh and new. In fact, the only times the album failed was when it stepped away from such things and focused more on the electronic influences that have always been present in Patrick's music. It was rare, but it was there, and it kept the album from being a classic. That abrasive modernity just didn't mesh well with the album's main sound. This, ultimately, is where Lupercalia
succeeds. It's very modern, almost obsessively so, and it stays that way through its entire runtime. The Bachelor
was a record of give and take; Patrick took from old influences in order to express loneliness, and in turn paid those influences the attention they hadn't been given in a long time. It worked. Lupercalia
is rooted firmly in the here and now, without reference to mythology or folk tales or any other themes that have always been present in Patrick's music.
The music itself has been simplified, although that becomes a relative term in reference to Patrick Wolf. His discography is packed with a variety of instruments and influences, and he's amazingly never had an album that felt bloated, although that could have easily happened. There's always been this exquisite balance to his records despite the fact that they've been all over the map as far as moods go. Lupercalia
falls somewhere in the middle, leveling out with one mood and theme in its entirety. Although the entire album is about love, the songs never stoop to romance novel sappiness, even though the songs are quite sentimental. In order for this to work, the music almost certainly had
to be dialed back. The ever-present strings of his earlier music would seem overbearing here, as would electronic influences. Both of those things show up (the strings, especially), but more prominently featured is the piano and horn section, all the better to carry such a triumphant mood. If electronic influences do show up, they serve only as a counterbalance to more beautiful sounds, and because of that, Lupercalia
avoids the one failing of his previous album. It will probably be good for his career, in the long run, to have scaled back his ambition a bit, and if nothing else, the feelings present here will almost certainly lead to a monumental breakup album.
Patrick himself referred to these songs as marriage songs, as first kiss songs. That describes them better than anything else. Listening to the joyous simplicity inherent in the album's mood, you get the feeling that love, for all its pitfalls, really is the simplest thing in the world to feel; you need only to be inside your house, the city without, the falcons overhead, the days stretching off into the future, and listen.