Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor
Record Label: Bloody Chamber Music
Release Date: June 1, 2009
In sharp contrast to his previous release, The Magic Position, singer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wolf has taken a sharp turn in musical style and lyrical content. Gone is the major key, sugar sweet happiness of The Magic Position, replaced with layered symphonies of winding violins and flourishes of synthesisers, courtesy of Atari Teenage Riot front man, Alec Empire. The first part of the so-called “battle,” a thematic element that continues through many of the songs, The Bachelor is the first of a two part release, with follow-up The Conqueror to be released in 2010.
The absence of the major key that had dictated every track of The Magic Position is noticeable from the off, with “Kriegspiel” opening the album with churning, industrial groans, preceding the album’s second single, “Hard Times.” The electronic and classical clash here, with an electronic loop layered over fast, high pitched violins. Wolf’s voice, strong as ever, shines through, reaching impossibly low notes and just as easily climbing to the higher pitches.
Despite the album remaining thematically about Wolf’s own struggle with solitude and his emergence from his troubles, as shown solemnly on “Blackdown” - a harrowing piano ballad reflecting on his life thus far, Wolf negates the normal pitfalls of such a concept by avoiding weepy ballads and nonsensical lyrics, not to mention vague concepts that inspire confusion rather than emotion. Instead, he utilises his arsenal of instruments, making each song intricately layered and textured, providing a substantial background for his smooth and pleasantly confident voice, as he proclaims “desire, desire, desire, you are not the maker of me”.
While at times The Bachelor may seem slightly derivative and slightly pretentious (the addition of actress Tilda Swinton’s voice in three of the tracks definitely takes time to get accustomed to) the overall album only suffers a minor blow, as immediately following “Oblivion,” featuring Tilda Swinton’s commands of “I dare you to take a hold of that darkness from deep down in you,” which, to be fair, is a bit too much on the theatrics, your ears are treated to the glory that is the title track, “The Bachelor.” Featuring the rasping vocals of folk artist Eliza Carthy, Wolf seems comfortable in this setting; sweeping violins and a thrumming drum echoing in the background, while Wolf croons and mesmerises with his voice.
The criticisms of The Bachelor are mainly due to seemingly too much effort. The addition of Tilda Swinton may serve a purpose in the narrative, but the blunt and random delivery of her lines interspersed on the album could have been done more effectively. The track "Battle" is a summary of the flaws on this album that prevent it from being spectacular. As the vocal delivery is, as ever, enticing, alternating between low, rushed sounds and high pitched soprano, you think you may fall in love with the album. Then some words float into your consciousness; “battle the patriarch / battle for equal rights,” you slowly lose the image of perfection. Blessedly, this phenomena of pretentious lyrics and forced messages only occurs in the one song, allowing the album to sail past harmlessly without feeling like you’re being preached at.
At only 25 years old and on his fourth album, Wolf mediates between the darkness and the wonders of life, toeing the fine line precariously with his familiar arc of whimsical strings and powerful choruses. Wolf’s ability to retain pop structures in partially inaccessible songs (“Damaris” begins with Lord of The Rings style strings, while still emerging into a instantly memorable chorus) is admirable, with Wolf only losing his footing when he simply tries too hard. The Bachelor has capitalized on Wolf’s previous escapades into acoustic-electronic clashes, providing a masterful album full of sonically diverse accompaniments, leaving the second part of the battle, The Conquerer, with big shoes to fill.