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Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia

Patrick Wolf, Lupercalia

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

I’VE yet to fully warm to the baroque charms of Patrick Wolf, in spite of the generally positive reviews his work has thus far received. With fifth album Lupercalia, however, that view has changed.

By his own admission, it’s a much more positive record and certainly the antithesis of 2009’s The Bachelor, which sprung from the depths of Wolf’s personal depression.

Rather, the mood has lightened, the vibe is more upbeat and the overall sound seems as much influenced by the swirling string arrangements of someone like Fyfe Dangerfield as it does the bombastic pop of ‘80s outfit Tears For Fears.

Wolf, crucially, seems to be enjoying himself. And maybe that’s because he’s found himself in a much more confident place.

Lupercalia is very much a celebration of love and all things positive. It’s still crammed with his fondness for the baroque, but this works well in making him retain a unique quality amid the pop contemporaries he now seeks to place himself.
You could argue this is the sound of an outsider fitting in, albeit on his own terms. And that can only be a good thing.

The template is set from the start, with the joyous, finger-clicking piano pop of former single The City, which effortlessly combines heartfelt lyrics with wonderfully layered instrumentation that tosses in everything from gravel-throated backing harmonies to fine piano pop arrangements and even blasts of sax.

House, meanwhile, finds Wolf triumphantly declaring over more euphoric pianos and synths: “Oh I love this house, I love this house gives me the greatest peace I’ve ever known.” It’s celebratory and worth celebrating, yet by no means dumbed down pop (he cites Dylan Thomas in the lyrics).

Bermondsey Street weaves a romantic tale of romance and pride around more piano and horn arrangements, with Wolf declaring: “Love knows no boundaries, sees beyond sexualities.” Again, it’s joyous without being cheesy; upbeat and romantic without being overly sentimental.

And so the rest of the album continues to endear, whether dropping in slower, more ballad-driven songs (such as the cinematic Slow Motion) or throwing off the shackles in resolutely positive fashion on Time Of My Life (a sweeping strings moment).

There’s even moments when Wolf indulges the eccentric that obviously still resides within (as well as the level of ambition) by re-working an old Manx Gaelic folk song on Armistice and featuring the duduk (an Armenian wind instrument) and something called a Cristal Bachet as supporting instrumentation. It guarantees that Wolf still has the ability to surprise and offer something different.

And it’s this approach that endears him even more, especially in light of his turnaround in fortunes thematically. Lupercalia is very much a summer album worth celebrating.

To coin a phrase from sweeping final track, The Falcons, “things are looking up for me, finally”! You have to hope that, commercially, that’s the case, for Lupercalia is more than deserving of widespread success.

Download picks: The City, Bermondsey Street, Armistice, Time of My Life, Slow Motion, The Falcons

Track listing:

  1. The City
  2. House
  3. Bermondsey Street
  4. The Future
  5. Armistice
  6. William
  7. Time of My Life
  8. The Days
  9. Slow Motion
  10. Together
  11. The Falcons