Fascinating fantasy or ostentatiously bloated?
Lucy Davies 2009
The Bachelor was originally intended to make half a double album, with the second half called The Conqueror, which is now expected in 2010. This first album is, according to Patrick Wolf, loosely based on his life and experiences as a single man away from home; “heartbroken and in deep dispair [sic]”.
Firmly planting himself as the hero, Patrick tells a winding tale plunging depths to retribution, ostentatiously bloated with high camp, vast orchestration and drama.
Patrick enlists the help of folk royalty Eliza Carthy to duet with him on The Bachelor, a song about a pig farmer who needs someone to look after his pigs after his death.
Wolf sounds like David Sylvian covering Marc Almond throughout. Much here is angry and questioning, with odd moments of optimism. Damaris is an uplifting song punctuated by military drums, chimes and slight recorder in the background, plus a throaty voiced chorus, urging the listener to rise up.
Actress Tilda Swinton’s spoken narrative acts as a familiar accompanying Wolf on his journey. Sometimes her received pronunciation can distance the whole experience. On Theseus, for instance, her spoken repetitions of Wolf’s singing (“freedom!”… “lover!”…) remind you of a children’s fantastical drama and render the otherwise joyful and well orchestrated arrangement ridiculous.
Patrick’s dramatic persona cannot always mask the lack of melodic content. The Sun is Often Out, written about a poet friend’s suicide, may be overloaded with violins, but very little happens. The laboured delivery leaves the listener cold rather than empathetic.
The album comes with rambling notes from Wolf detailing the ideas behind each song. For example, Vulture was written from his experience of spending a few days in a hotel room with a Satanist. High-minded and fantastical songs are grounded by such explanations, and without this knowledge, the listener might be more open to his musical ideas.
Those who find Wolf’s life as fascinating as he does will receive The Bachelor well; those who don’t should steer clear of the lyrics and enjoy the fantasy for what it is.