Friday, March 21, 2014

Patrick Wolf

So, in my last blog, I mentioned how Were the World Mine used a song called "The Magic Position" by an artist named Patrick Wolf. And it sounded like this.

The song is bouncy, exuberant and joyous, very catchy and smile-inducing. So, I decided to get the song. It was on an album called The Magic Position.

The Magic Position opens like a celebration of love, going from loving yourself in "Overture" to the joyous "Magic Position," which is of course about love for a partner.

Then the album suddenly seems to switch up in "Accident and Emergency" which finds joy in even the worst of times. Then the upbeat tone is broken with "The Bluebell" and "Bluebells," a two-song ballad about how a lost love can make you feel. This is then followed by the mysterious song "Magpie." The entire album is rich in lyrics, but the tone changes often. But by the time you get to "Finale," an instrumental, you'll find it hard not to have picked some favorite tracks.

I really enjoyed the album and decided to seek out more of Patrick Wolf's music. As it turned out, The Magic Position was his third of so far six albums, and in addition, he had released four EP albums and many singles in many forms (vinyl, CD, digital download), many of the singles and all of the EPs containing songs not on the albums. To keep this blog short, I shall only talk about the albums, though I've managed to obtain the entire discography.

The order in which I listened to the albums were largely based on the order I got them in: The Magic Position, The Bachelor, Wind in the Wires, Lycanthropy, Sundark and Riverlight, and Lupercalia. However, to now shift from my story to Patrick's, I'll look at them in chronological order.

Patrick Wolf, an English/Irish musician, had started his music career in 2002 with The Patrick Wolf EP, and then the next year released his first album, Lycanthropy. This first outing proved to be a little rough, but one in which Patrick laid his story raw. Because the thing about many of Patrick's songs is that they are based on his life experience or his own understanding of things. He uses many metaphors and is not afraid to use downright disturbing themes. "The Childcatcher" is about pedophilia, and Patrick openly said that it was based on a sexual relationship he had at 15, when he was still just a child. "Peter Pan" is a simple song about dealing with conflict, while "A Boy Like Me" is openly about expectations put on a person and how you might dream of something different.

2005 found his second album being released, Wind in the Wires, which has a more mellow tone than the previous album, but "The Libertine" does kick into high energy with a message about breaking away from the majority. The title track is "a love song to electricity," but deals a lot with how nature has been subverted. ("This wild electricity/made static by industry/like a bird in an aviary/singing to the sky/singing to be free.")

The album kicks up again with the highly energetic "Tristan," based on "Tristram of Lyonesse." It seems to be largely about being your own hero in the face of overwhelming odds, even including the one time in his entire discography that he uses profanity: "I am fucked, and I am fucking too." Finally, "Land's End" begins rather merrily, but ends in almost a dirge.

2007 brought Patrick's biggest hit in The Magic Position, when he confirmed that his sexuality was on the queer shade, saying, "I don’t know whether I’m destined to live my life with a horse, a woman or a man. It makes life easier." He later said that his sexuality was "liberal," and that "I guess you would call me bisexual."

Touring for The Magic Position led to the much darker tone of his fourth album, The Bachelor, released in 2009. Experiencing depression and some sexual experimentation led to some of the darker songs on the album: "Vulture" particularly deals with feeling dead inside, and in this case, wishing to have the "dead meat" taken away. Tilda Swinton appears on the album, speaking roles on certain tracks as "The Voice of Hope."

"Hard Times" clearly speaks about a world at war, even referencing "two towers." While it's not the only Wolf song to focus on contemporary issues, it is the first to clearly identify them. The song "Oblivion" is certainly about young people going to war.

"Thesus" compares the myth of Thesus to being a music star. The song, "The Bachelor" is based on the traditional song "Poor Little Turtledove," and is obviously about being alone. The song takes a queer twist with "So I went up to this mountain/to give my horn a blow/All the boys in the valley said/Yonder comes my beau." (The original song used the line "And every girl in the valley said.")

Patrick planned to have the next album, titled The Battle, follow up from The Bachelor, but that didn't work out. In 2010, Wolf announced that he was engaged to one William Pollock. His 2011 album, Lupercalia, features a short song titled "William" which opens with the lyrics, "And I showed you my ugly heart/still you did not surrender." He further goes on to ask William to be his conqueror. Wolf had decided to identify as gay in 2009, despite previous relationships with women. He decided he would not care if his music sounded "too gay or too straight or too this or too that."

As such, Lupercalia brings a welcome levity for Patrick after The Bachelor, "The City" bold with the message, "won't let the city destroy our love." "House" finds Patrick appreciating the beauty of home, while "Bermondsey Street" tells of "two kisses sweet on Bermondsey Street," the lyrics identifying a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple, further saying, "Love knows no boundaries/sees beyond sexualities." The album is very uplifting.

Wolf's latest album, 2012's Sundark and Riverlight, was to celebrate ten years of his musical career. Rather than re-releasing previous songs as a "Greatest Hits" album, he instead selected sixteen songs from his previous five albums (and a recent EP) and presented new acoustic versions of them. The album is on two discs: "Sundark" presenting some of Patrick's darker songs ("written in loneliness and not really thinking about other people"), "Riverlight" presenting "songs of hope and relationship." Many of the darker songs now sound less harsh and more approachable and honest. ("Vulture," for example, had a rock sound in its original incarnation, but here it is more mournful.) The lighter songs sound more beautiful with this treatment.

As the world awaits where Patrick Wolf goes next, I'm very glad to have discovered his music. While I might not know exactly why he wrote each track as he did, his music resonates with me very much. What I enjoy most about him is that he doesn't write or record his music to top the charts or be a huge star. Patrick sings because this is how he expresses himself and people respond to it.

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