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Album Review: Patrick Wolf ‘Lupercalia’

‘Lupercalia’ is a pretty great album, it just doesn’t really feel like a Patrick Wolf album. It’s the antithesis to 2009’s ‘The Bachelor’, which is ironic seeing as they were both originally intended to be part of a double-album with this new disc entitled ‘The Conquerer’, until Wolf’s songwriting took him in a different direction. One can only assume that in the time between 2009 and now he has found God or Love or something in between, because this is easily the happiest and most unreservedly hopeful we’ve ever seen Patrick Wolf.

It’s completely lacking of the fantasy imagery that we’ve come to associate with Wolf’s music and indeed live show, including the album art which is an uncharacteristically plain portrait of Wolf dressed all in white, starkly contrasting with the gothic cover art of ‘The Bachelor’. Whereas most of Wolf’s earlier music is decidedly dark in nature, and even his more poppy moments such as 2007’s ‘The Magic Position’ had more sinister undertones, ‘Lupercalia’ is unmistakably influenced by disco and motown.

Yes, disco and motown, from the man who wears S&M bondage outfits for live shows.

To Wolf’s credit he pulls it off superbly. The bigger moments of this record, which is fittingly named after a ‘festival of love’, simply shine. Opening track The City introduces the lush instrumentation and layered vocals that will dominate the following ten tracks, including a very cheesy saxophone part that you’re either going to love or hate. Following track and latest single House is a bit more of a sure thing, growing comparatively slowly to a euphoric crescendo that can’t help but sweep you away.

There are plenty of other moments of typical grandeur here, such as first single Time Of My Life which is driven by a piercing strings section and Bermondsey Street, a personal favourite of mine. Armistice is as close as the album comes to bordering on ‘moody’, but even then the song’s message is about hope and love. 

It’s hard to put my finger on why I don’t quite love this album then, but I think I’ve figured out the answer: Wolf has lost all his lyrical subtlety. When he was singing about misery and darkness he always did so shrouded by metaphors and fantastical symbology, forcing the listener to interpret songs in their own way and in light of their own experiences. Wolf had a unique and poignant way of speaking some very clear and honest home truths while using very inaccessible and distanced language, and this was a large part of his charm for me.

But when he’s singing about love, Wolf’s lyrics seem disappointingly cliched and unambiguous. This reaches a peak with Slow Motion, a song about how Wolf felt like he was living in slow motion until he received the ‘kiss of life’. The songwriting is still touching at times, it’s just much more direct than I’m accustomed to from the same artist who brought us The Libertine and Bloodbeat. Together for example is just a lyrical non-event, with the chorus of “Together, together, I can’t make it alone, we can make it so much better together, together, together, together”.

I’m very happy that Patrick Wolf is happy, don’t get me wrong. But I just don’t think it suits his music very well. 

Ultimately though it’s just going to come down to personal taste. I’m still an enormous fan of Patrick Wolf, and this is still a great album. If you dig straightforward love songs with slightly unconventional instrumentation, then this is for you. Plus Wolf’s vocals are as always impeccable, and his charm carries over to his studio music perhaps more obviously than it ever has. I may have enjoyed ‘Lupercalia’ more if it had been released as a double album with ‘The Bachelor’, because the two would have complimented each other perfectly, hinting both at Wolf’s past and future.

As it is however, ‘Lupercalia’ has to be judged on its lonesome, and as such I’m more than happy to call it a very good, very likable, and very inoffensive album, it just isn’t what I was really expecting or hoping for.

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Patrick Wolf ‘Lupercalia’”

  1. Completely agreed! I couldn’t have expressed my impression on the album better.

  2. I actually always felt Wolf’s sincerity as being the most iconic thing to his music, more so than the imagery which is why I’ll have to disagree when you say that it doesn’t lyrically feel like his older work.

    It’s a controlled album in the same way Wind In The Wires was (and what his two proceeding albums truly needed to be), and I think it totally stands up with that album as an example of his best.

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