Review Summary: Patrick Wolf the artist, first and foremost, laid bare for all to hear. I thought It was time after a decade to take a moment to document what these songs have grown up to be while I’ve been travelling them around the world. There was a conscious rebellion on this album against the digital age of auto-tune and mass produced electronic landfill music. I want to present at my 10 year anniversary a musical biography.
In many ways, it’s difficult to imagine Patrick Wolf stripping anything down, in any sense. After all, the English-Irish “pop star” has made a career with his flair for the extravagant, both with his music and appearance. He carefully adds dramatic and flamboyant layers to his image and sound, as with each he furthers the idea and image of who Patrick Wolf is, despite the fact that it may not be entirely genuine. With his latest album, Wolf has decided to set the record straight and cast all things aside. Sundark and Riverlight
is first and foremost Patrick Wolf the artist and musician, and it’s everything one could have asked for.
Sundark and Riverlight
is the most intimate record of Wolf’s career, and a celebration of his 10 years as a recording artist. To mark the occasion, he decided to revisit certain selections from his discography, all with his current mindset. From years of touring and keeping these songs close, things have changed, both for Wolf and these pieces. The double album is split into two halves: Sundark and Riverlight. The first portion is the darker, more melancholy works that were prevalent during the artists’ earlier, lonelier albums. Countering this is Riverlight, the more upbeat album that marks Wolf’s transition into the more content man who had fallen in love. Both represent the singer-songwriter in two very different-albeit genuine-lights.
One’s initial response to an album such as this may be either general indifference or complete aversion. And truly, it’s quite understandable. When musicians pull the “acoustic re-recordings of old material” it’s generally a half-assed affair, but it isn’t in Patrick Wolf’s nature to half-ass anything. With Sundark and Riverlight
the artist approaches each song with a mindset of creation, rather than slapping on a new coat of paint. Many of these songs are fundamentally and structurally altered, and in a surprising turn, most are done so for the better. Who knew how much “The Magic Position” dragged until Wolf reevaluated it? Here, the strings are brought to the forefront and the pace is given a much needed boost, all adding up to a song that actually improves on an already great tune. The same can be said of “House,” which ditches some of the odd electronic flourishes that never really seemed to fit. Although “Wind in the Wires” regretfully does not feature the dual vocals that made the original so incredible, the overall “hollow” feeling that permeates it makes it much more beautiful and lonesome.
Patrick Wolf isn’t usually accredited as being a musician who places artistic integrity above all else, as the tag “pop-star” is haphazardly thrown around all too often. However, on Sundark and Riverlight
one feels and hears the musician for who he truly is. With much of the studio magic taken out of the equation, Wolf has never been stronger. Vocally, he impresses at every turn with his warm tone, great range, and excellent control. His powerful voice is all the more welcome thanks to this new stripped down feeling, as it sounds gorgeous next to the emphasized strings and keys.
Who knows what the next 10 years have in store for the bombastic musician? Wolf makes his life-and the emotional fallouts contained within-the paint on the canvas. Love and heartbreak are constant companions in his life, driving much of what we hear and feel through his music. Sundark and Riverlight
is a reminder of this, as well as time for transition. The album excels, featuring some of the artist’s finest work, despite being mostly retreaded material. Do not let this be a deterrent, though, for there is something here for the devoted members of his “Wolf Pack” as well as his fiercest detractors.