An all-inclusive love in from one of the UK’s most interesting pop artists.
Michael Cragg 2011-06-09
Patrick Wolf rarely gives the impression of someone who creates music in a carefree fashion. At times the phrase "tortured artist" seems so crushingly apt that it's almost caricature. Lupercalia was originally meant to be the second part of a double-album, entitled Battle. The first part, The Bachelor, arrived in 2009 bearing the marks of its difficult gestation too heavily. Recorded after bouts of depression and exhaustion, it's an album that's hard to love, flitting between aggressive electronica and folk paeans.
Towards the end of its creation, Wolf said he felt his confidence return and that this creative rejuvenation, coupled with falling in love, lead him to Lupercalia, named after a pre-Roman festival of purification. Its title is completely apt, with nearly all its songs focusing on the healing power of love and the happiness that comes from it. The City sets the tone, all galloping drum beats, handclaps and a chorus that chimes "won't let this city destroy our love". Even a sax solo can't dampen the exuberance. House depicts delicious domesticity over strident strings. It should be cloying – "I love the curling of your hair / Gives me the greatest peace I've ever known" – but the sheer force of good will is so strong that you can't help being swept along. Closer The Falcons bounds about like an over-excited puppy, Wolf practically shouting "things are looking up for us" at the top of his lungs.
Wolf has recently denied suggestions that Lupercalia is his attempt at breaking a mainstream that's been resolutely sceptical thus far. Perhaps burned by the reaction to his last major label effort, 2007’s The Magic Position, he's been quick to deny any kind of 'dumbing down'. This isn't an album to convert the sceptics, with his distinctively dramatic and richly honeyed voice front and centre. The slower songs are typical Wolf, with Armistice a re-working of an old Manx Gaelic folk song and featuring the duduk – an Armenian wind instrument – and something called a Cristal Bachet. He's still wonderfully pretentious, but that pretentiousness has been harnessed into songs as opposed to wilful experimentation.
Over the space of five albums, Wolf has confirmed himself as one of the UK's genuinely interesting pop stars. Lupercalia manages to walk the fine line between upbeat and irritating, between unabashed happiness and over-sentimentality. The fabric of the songs seems imbued with joy, and it's testament to the quality of the songwriting that you don't feel alienated by what are incredibly personal lyrics. It's an all-inclusive love in, basically, and all the better for it.