Album review: Patrick Wolf - 'The Bachelor'

Paid for by – and made for – fans, Paddy’s fourth may not be to everyone’s taste

There’s no cheaper way of neutering an eccentric than not being impressed. As with bullies, if you ignore them they disappear. Patrick Wolf’s pretty easy to deride: he looks like a drunk Macaulay Culkin looking for attention at a Narnian truck stop. His music veers from elaborate pop to self-conscious avant-garde: I once saw him singing ‘2 Become 1’ to a crowd of photographers clearly waiting for someone else. Yet it’s hard not to admire him.

Since he announced himself as a ‘Libertine’ in 2005, his subsequent endeavour has been enough to prove that those claims were precocious rather than pretentious, and while he hasn’t become the pop star Universal imagined he would be (they dropped him), he has maintained an artistic clarity which goes beyond a fruity veneer. Even those who find him grating must see that there are few so compelled to make art. Luckily for Patrick, there were enough fans compelled to hear it to sponsor ‘The Bachelor’, his fourth album.

It was a good investment. ‘The Magic Position’, his last record, was an exuberant masterpiece, but this album takes a different, subtler tack. ‘The Bachelor’ is a thoughtful record whose greatest flaw is only that it’s overthought (though to the fans obsessive enough to fund it, that’s probably a bonus).

Every corner is crammed with a desperation to expose ideas and possibility. Spoken word interludes by Tilda Swinton, kraut drones, techno contributions from Alec Empire on ‘Vulture’ and whirling folk melodies on ‘Blackdown’ and ‘Thickets’ all balance Patrick’s melodramatic voice in a spiderweb so intricate it might disappear if you concentrated too hard. If it wasn’t so bloody loud. For some it’ll be an album that rushes over you like a waterfall, demanding awe not deconstruction. For others it’ll be cry for attention with all the charm of a man with a bell on his head shouting equations.

Perhaps losing his deal has driven his artistic isolation home to Patrick: if his eccentricities were once down

to a teenage desperation for difference, now he’s realised those ambitions, and looking around, sees that he is on his own. ‘Hard Times’ calls for “revolution”, for people to help him move from the mundane to the wonderful.

He asks for inspiration, but most who hear his call will be dedicated devotees, who’ll offer less inspiration than quiet encouragement. Oh well. Patrick’s been operating on his own for years and if ‘The Bachelor’ doesn’t herald the aesthetic revolution he dreams of, no doubt another bell of motivation will clang behind those doughy ketamine eyes in his biblical face and once again he’ll strike anew.

Alex Miller

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7 / 10

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