Patrick Wolf Wind in the Wires(Tomlab) Buy it from Insound
Patrick Wolf has woven about himself an elaborate series of personas that encompasses everything from werewolves to Dickensian urchins, and this miscellany permeates his music to such a degree that it has become difficult to determine where the fairytale ends and the lost boy begins. Wind In The Wires, the second album from the prodigiously talented pup, is no exception: Wolf is by turns incarnated as puckish piper, mordant critic, heartsick troubadour and voltage junky. Yet before this prompts a knee-jerk sneer, it's important to point out that the title of gifted singer-songwriter ranks amongst these others.
Where 2003's Lycanthropy, an astonishingly and precociously accomplished debut, was commendable for the rawness of its defiant vocals, feral yelps and erratic, stridulated beats, here we have an altogether more refined product. The songs display more structure, more restraint, and a desire to give freer rein to his classical training - yet this has been achieved without stifling his trademark spark and bite. The electricity is still there, it's just been harnessed and channelled. Indeed, it seems electricity is the watchword, given that Wolf himself has stated that the tellingly named title track is intended as "a love song to electricity". That, and the fact that he apparently has a penchant for plugging himself into the National Grid.
The Libertine, first track and lead single, is a stark statement of intent, a vituperative indictment of, well, pretty much everyone. The demagogue is lauded, and our heroes "lack any conviction/ They shout through the bars of clichÃ©". Oh, and the clergy are lying toe rags. In amongst all this invective is the message that everything that was once pure and honest has been corrupted, lost or broken. Whereas on Lycanthropy this was delivered with a generous dollop of angst, here it's expressed with sardonic savvy. An eerie violin refrain and a subtly menacing beat that bear this towards an apt and uncompromising climax: "I can't and I won't bow down anymore". This is, above all, a superb opening. Baroque imagery, nods to Yeats and its attendant mythology all combine to make this everything we had hoped for from our favourite ukulele-wielding scamp.
There follows The Libertine's perfect counterpoint, a wistful madrigal to those things that are lost. Teignmouth matches its precursor's vitriol with a subdued power that draws one towards the Autumn gales and clifftop sanctuary where the majority of this album was written. Any song that can make these poor cynics want to grasp the tailfeathers of birds as they fly south must have something. Stale but innately charming sentiments are reinvigorated through canny lyrical subversion, as in the case of "I give you my hand/ the fingers unfold/ To have and forever hold". The simplicity and beauty is, as always, animated by the current that hums and crackles beneath the surface.
This sets the tone for a record replete with the wilderness, the West Country and magic. At times, as with The Libertine and also with Tristan, the insulation is stripped away and the latent force is unyoked. The latter is a visceral mantra, a distillation of all that constitutes the underbelly of the album, and a vent for the shackled energy. This is the quintessential pop tune - through a laudanum glass, darkly.
If Lycanthropy gave us cause for concern that, despite its brilliance, the Wolf had somehow corralled himself, our fears were unfounded. With its wild electricity, wistfulness and elegant composition, Wind in the Wires is a beautifully executed album that has everything: pace, panache, and clean sentiment. For all its earnest it never sounds wet, and for all its punch it never sounds histrionic. Where he'll go from here is unclear, but we're sold on the magic. Don't know about you, we're heading down to Cornwall with a green tent and a violin.23 March, 2005 - 00:00 — Abby and Dugald