Bloody Chamber Music: Patrick Wolf’s Brand of Pop

If you’re a fan of Patrick Wolf, chances are you’ve been anxiously awaiting his next step. The last time he graced us with an album was in 2012. For anyone following his movements on social media, he’s continued to play shows and record music until about a year ago, when he stopped posting to social media and left fans hanging. His Instagram now contains only one post where fans leave comments of gratitude and support. As for any new music, we’re still waiting.

Many artists are working today that make music similar to what Patrick was doing in the early 00s; his influence is there; whether he gets much credit for his influence is different. But, unfortunately, since his last release, there hasn’t been much conversation on his work, and one can feel the critical anticipation dispersing with each passing year. So, with the hopes of his reemergence and new music, we thought it would be great to look at why we believe so many connected with his flamboyant style, music, and talent as a poignant multi-instrumentalist.

During the early 00s, Patrick emerged from the UK with his debut Lycanthropy, a collection of folktronica. Combining poetic lyricism and themes more in line with folk music laid down with aggressive textures and beats, one can hear the influence of Björk and Kate Bush. At a tender age, he gained acclaim as a musician, winning various accolades from music publications. The title track was an early exploration of gender dysphoria, “I was once a boy ’til I cut my penis off,” goes the opening line. before finishing with a declaration of strength, “And let no foot mark your ground/Let no hand hold you down.” No subject matter is too taboo for Patrick, “The Childcatcher” is a harrowing narrative of a child taken captive by a pedophile. The vocals, a continuous menacing chant, work with the raw, aggressive beat arrest the listener’s attention. While charming, Lycanthropy is thick with the flourishes of someone new to the game, the album contains a few naive lyrics and vocal ticks that can come off a bit cringy. However, despite these minor flaws, it still holds up well, and its more mature qualities outweigh the missteps of a young songwriter.

2005 saw Patrick coming into his own and developing his strength as a songwriter, following his debut with Wind in the Wires, which significantly improved the themes of Lycanthropy. Gaining even more critical acclaim and featuring more variety in instrumentation, his lyricism remained eloquent, a gripping mixture of literary and historical references influenced by his Cornish upbringing. Songs like ‘Tristan” and “The Libertine” are both dark, harrowing stories. The title track is one of his most potent and moving lyrically. The entirety of the album is dark and carries mystery within each track. But despite his songwriting strength and critical acclaim, Patrick remained on the fringe of indie success, never fully embraced by the same audience numbers conjured up as contemporaries Arcade Fire or Antony and the Johnsons.

Perhaps Patrick’s most considerable amount of commercial and critical success can be found within his third album, The Magic Position, Patrick’s first stab at “major key” pop music. The title track was a substantial crossover success that continued to build a larger audience for his brand of electronic-tinged chamber music. Additionally, the album saw Patrick in an unashamedly queer aesthetic, his fashion choices as bold as his music probably turned off many. You can get a great sense of his extravagant style by simply searching; these outfits were as much a part of his appeal as the music. Simply put, Patrick didn’t give a fuck.

It’s common to see artists of any gender don extravagant clothing now, but in the early to mid-2000s, It wasn’t as common or acceptable, and there weren’t as many queer voices attempting to break through the mainstream. For example, the cover of The Magic Position sees Patrick, decked out in bright red pants, straddling a carousel animal. Still, it was his combination of fashion coupled with his music and his charmingly candid persona in interviews that made many fall in love. It was both intriguing and provocative for a man to dye his hair with every new album, chameleonic reinvention is expected with female artists but for a man, it was a form of self-expression many had not yet encountered.

Those in the know were paying attention; obviously influenced by fashion, W Magazine featured Patrick with a rundown of his biggest influences; additionally, he modeled in a campaign for Burberry. He was able to get Tilda Swinton, a friend, to lend her vocals to his next project, 2009’s The Bachelor, which dropped the bright pop of his previous album for a return to darker terrain. The album saw the continuation of his obvious talents, combining electronics with analog instruments, his lyrics just as meticulously crafted as ever. However, there wasn’t a cult-hit as large as The Magic Position. Critically, the album was met with middling reviews.

His next release, however, would bring him another big hit. 2011’s Lupercalia contained “The City,” a song that to this day is his most unabashedly pop moment. Lupercalia saw Patrick at his most polished, both in sound and appearance, considered a stab at big pop production and an attempt at crafting an album inspired by his marriage. The album, filled with heart on the sleeve expressions of love and domestic bliss. “Bermondsey Street,” which should be considered a minor queer anthem of self-acceptance, is a call to all those brave enough to express their love in the open. In comparison, “Armistice” is a tender ballad focusing on the safety of having someone to tackle the adversity and danger of any relationship that doesn’t conform to other’s narrow definition. In opposition, “Time of My Life” is a high-energy kiss-off, a declaration of happiness found when learning to stand on your own.

A year later, Patrick would follow with Sundark and Riverlight, a double album of rerecorded songs spanning his career from Lycanthropy to Lupercalia. the collection is somewhat stripped back; some tracks feature flourishes not found on the originals, instrumentation differs. Some songs are entirely reworked into compositions a little more restrained perhaps, coming with age, even more, mature and sure of themselves than their originals. The chosen pieces on Sundark and Riverlight act as a retrospective of Wolf’s career, and due to the substantial differences to his originals, it is enjoyable in its own right. It’s a fitting best of, a collection featuring a mix of his poppier tendencies with deeper cuts never given a single release.

Unfortunately, this is where his story ends. Since 2012, Patrick has remained quiet and seen his fair share of hardships resulting from legal issues, a vehicular accident, and projects, a poetry collection, abandoned. However, he’s been in the studio, and through 2017-2018, he’s played shows and debuted new material, some of which is available on youtube via fan recordings. However, recently his social media has been quiet, and the updates have stopped trickling out.

While we’re hopeful that new music is upcoming, Wolf’s influence and connection will ensure that fans continue to await that announcement patiently. There are six albums worth of material, in addition to EPs and one-off tracks to pour over in the meantime. It’s important to share our love for his music. Coming of age in the 00s, it was such a meaningful, affirming experience to see a nonconformist musician blurring the lines of sexuality and gender while flirting with mainstream audiences before such a thing became a hot topic. We’re sure thousands of other queer kids took note and related as well; for that, Patrick deserves more recognition in the part he played; he walked so future LGBTQ+ artists could run.

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