Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor
Jamie Milton 29/05/2009
Still young, free-thinking, still excavating into new depths and territories, Patrick Wolf's career is far from over, maybe not even halfway through. But since 'Lycanthropy', the head-turning debut he released at the tender age of twenty, it's fair to say he's been under pressure. In truth, Wolf spent a good eight years going in and out of writing and recording his masterpiece, his breakthrough. Ever since he's had a hungry loyal fanbase, widening from one country to another. He had more people to please as each day passed, and he lost it. Patrick locked himself away in his London flat for weeks, turned off his phone, asked himself the key questions: “Who am I? What do I stand for? Should I carry on?”. He returned, refreshed after a walk with his family on the South Downs, convinced that he had to write about the period, not because he was short on inspiration, but because he simply had to go back to writing on a personal level. 'The Bachelor' covers one half of Patrick's last two years, the adventurous times and the traumatic. And whilst the music he explores has no definitive mood, this album is anything but contrived. Throughout, he goes with his heart and it's there that a small minority of this record is off-putting, too immersed in its own intentions.
Fortunately enough, the ratio of the good and the ugly swings in the listener's favour. But for every pack of uplifting, grand anthems come a failed attempt at a heavy metal track. By the time you come to 'Battle', an Alec Empire assisted fist-pump, you become unconvinced of Wolf's goals. Either he's really covering the most important, unbalanced period of his life or he's just trying to provoke you. It just seems almost imbecilic for an album to contain both flute-led ballads ('Damaris') and this full on, almost half-hearted attempt at diving into a new genre. Whilst no doubt Wolf has emerged from his “depression” retaining his identity, you wonder whether there are still dents to his confidence.
But 'The Bachelor' could have stuck to a safe formula of maintaining a dark and gloomy outlook, with Wolf playing his ukulele and a violin, weeping occasionally and expressing sadness to an extreme. A fair few albums that cover these obscure, indistinct periods glue solely to this sort of output. And therefore it's refreshing for Wolf to include duets (Tilda Swinton, most noticeably on the pulsating highlight 'Oblivion') and orchestras. By the time he finally exposes himself fully on 'Blackdown' and 'The Sun Is Often Out', the most effective period on the record, it stands out and sure, you yearn for more. But if that were the case, this record would sound tiresome, depressing in itself.
Whether he intended it or not, 'The Bachelor' isn't Patrick Wolf's landmark album, the one he's most fondly remembered for. However, without a doubt he also intended to make something bold and inventive and regardless of how uneasy this record might make you feel, that much he's achieved.