05
Jul
09

Hard Won Resolution and Revolution: Patrick Wolf’s The Bachelor

Patrick Wolf The Bachelor

I’m not about to hide the fact that I invested in Patrick Wolf’s latest album, The Bachelor. I along with hundreds of other people purchased shares via Bandstock and/or TWIN, and frankly, I don’t think the return spread across that many shareholders will be terribly lucrative. But I don’t think that’s why any of us did it; we wanted to contribute and be a part of a piece of art from a truly dynamic artist. I’m not going to encourage you to buy The Bachelor because I stand to get two dollars; I want you to buy it because it’s an exquisite chronicle of a lonely, faithless human surviving at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Though Wolf decided to scrap the planned album called Battle and go with two albums over two years, this record is undoubtedly fighting fit and sees Wolf taking a battleaxe to his demons. This is Wolf wresting back control of his life, his art and his career. More than with any of his previous three LPs, I get the feeling that this record meant everything to him, and that he was going to oversee every last detail in the telling of this painful, heart-desiccating story. I mentioned this fact before in my review of the first single, Vulture, but Wolf seems to be less of a mythological character and/or folktale in this new work; many of the tracks are time specific and littered with unveiled personal detail. Rather than a lackadaisical romp through the English countryside or allusions to Peter Pan, libertines, childcatchers, medieval lovers, or gypsy kings, Wolf takes you to his blackest mental states in very real, urban places in L.A. and London.

Additionally, the story is traced through all aspects of his art, including the stunning liner notes, which take the form of a hardback book and which feature real, yet surreal, photographs of Wolf in various guises against a backdrop of forest and field; there is seamless meld between medieval quest and modern ordeal. The disc itself is emblazoned with both cardinal and carnal directions, including the phrase “your appetite so dangerous.” And in a deliberate act of contextualization and connotation, this album cover returns to the same pose and textual design as his first album, Lycanthropy; though the similarity is definitely there, the contrast is made all the more obvious, and it’s as if to say Patrick Wolf has matured from a runaway street urchin into a battle-weary prodigal son. The Bachelor heaves with unrest and yearning, and not for escape as in many of his earlier songs, but instead, for release.

The 50-second instrumental intro, Kriespiel, a siren-like barrage of electronic sound, screams into the opening feedback of the second released single, Hard Times, a passionate call to arms if I ever heard one. Set against frantic violins and electronic samples, Hard Times is one of Wolf’s best, and when he soars almost unexpectedly into that chorus, it feels like breaking through on the crest of all the rubbish we deal with on a daily basis. The lyrics are deeply reflective of the musical chaos and the mood of a post-911 world:

Divided nation
In sedation
Overload of information
That we have grown up
To ignore…
Mediocrity applauded
Through these hard times
And I’ll work harder, harder […]

Forced to count the hours
Since two towers
Fell to fiction those higher powers
Putting gods to war
Who keeps the score?

That second verse, along with the fantastical atmosphere of the liner note imagery, evokes a Tolkienesque epic mythology to the events of 9/11. The song is both a challenge and a rallying cry, utilizing a choir for the words “resolution” and “revolution” in the chorus and providing a brief respite of solidarity in a vortex of solitude. As Hard Times screeches away into the distance, actress Tilda Swinton comes in with her first bit of narration on the album and the quieter, seething Oblivion scrambles in like a muddied commando. Swinton, a spectacular choice for this element, comes in periodically throughout the album, sounding like both a polite navigation system and a benevolent matriarch; life would be so much easier if everyone had an inner guiding voice that sounds like Tilda Swinton. Oblivion has a violent edge to it as Wolf sings through clenched jaws before launching himself into a swandive into the void he initially resists and fears. Wolf slips back into some of his folkier roots with the title track, a song with lyrics adapted from a traditional Appalachian poem called “The Turtle Dove.” There’s a fantastically dark groove to the song that takes in both the blues and celtic ballads, and the interplay between Wolf and the raspy voice of Eliza Carthy is even more intense than his duet with Marianne Faithfull on the last album. The refrain of “I will never marry” takes on deeper meaning as other songs on the album explore same sex relationships and in light of Wolf’s vocal opinions on Proposition 8.

The cinematic beauty of Damaris also recalls some ancient celtic magic, including sweeping violins and Irish whistle. While the song can be read as a lovelorn ballad to a dead lover, the fact that Damaris is the Hellenization of the Celtic name Damara, the goddess of fertility, allows for a lament for the death of spring and renewal, and all of the attendant meanings. As Wolf and his choir chant ‘rise up,” it feels like a powerful pagan hymn. After more Irish whistle, Swinton comes back in with the brief, but comforting “Just a little further up the hill boy/You’ll be home soon enough” to signal the beginning of Thickets, one of the more positive songs on the record. It’s a gem of bucolic bliss as Wolf appears to come to himself amidst the burnt-out wasteland and wreckage of his life; as he sings “What have I become?,” you can smell the blossoms and berries pushing their way from the hinterlands of his better memories. This sense of awakening and epiphany continues as Count of Casualty slides in with the electronic elements of an Atari ST. It’s a dark, sludgy wade through the mire of technology and its resultant alienation. Wolf ties the losses of current perpetual war with the lack of real connection in a world of counterproductive social networking:

I dare you
Log off
Sign out
Delete your friends
Start to count
Your
Count of casual
Count of casualty

As death tolls mount and statistics cease to have any tangible meaning, so, too, do mounting friend counts on sites like MySpace and Facebook.

In the same vein as the title track, Who Will? is a gentle, plaintive cry to the universe. Its austere organ makes it all the more self-pitying, and the ticking electronic programming and distant thumping drums imitates a distressed heart, straining for the touch of someone who will understand its inner workings. Even as the emotional need mounts, a more physical lust lurks in its midst (the double entendre of the first line: “Who will penetrate/The tightening muscle”). As I said earlier, I’ve discussed Vulture a fair bit already, but it gains some further context within this album, especially following on the heels of Who Will?. The need from the previous song boils over into a self-destructive orgy of breaking senses and nerves. Ostensibly inspired by Wolf’s encounter with a Satanist in L.A., the track feels like shards of obsidian burying themselves in your flesh as you get swept under the wheels of a showbiz juggernaut. The emotional train of thought rumbles down from these dizzying heights into a shady valley for the more subdued Blackdown. Backed by simple piano, it is Wolf’s explicit plea to his family, especially his father, for forgiveness for the way he severed ties with them and his own history. Mentioning Battle, a town in East Sussex, and his ancestors, Wolf reconnects with his past in order to move on. Eventually the lonely piano gives way to a rousing run of drumming and clapping as Wolf seems to lead a wake for his dead self and lays his false, frantic stabs at identity to rest. Mournful strings surge in as Wolf begins The Sun is Often Out, an undisguised tribute to the memory of Stephen Vickery, a poet that Wolf knew, whose body washed up on the shores of the Thames close to where Wolf lives. A meditation on suicide, the song also seems to be Wolf’s way of breaking out of his own self-destructive self-absorption and reaffirming his own will to live. While the majority of the song is laden with sorrow, there is a moment of euphoria as Wolf repeatedly sings “The sun.” The track ends with the lingering line of “Was your work of art so heavy/That it would not let you live?”.

Tilda Swinton’s narration continues its arc of inspiring hope at the start of Theseus, where she continues to echo Wolf throughout this gentle, nudging composition. Friend and one-time tourmate, Bishi, also adds beautiful strains of sitar through this re-telling of the myth of Theseus and the labyrinth. The myth becomes personal as Wolf queries himself with the line on his disc: “And what is this for…your appetite so dangerous?”. Not only does he feel lost and alone, but he appears to have also misplaced his desire and his dreams for the future, unsure of his surfeit emotion and where to release it. The release then comes in the explosive torrent of Battle, the hardest, harshest music I’ve ever heard from Wolf. Rife with electric guitars and smashing drums, it takes on the legions of the conservative-thinking and those hiding their heads under the right wing, waging war on ignorance, patriarchy, homophobes and conformity. The album ends on a softer note with The Messenger, a song that leads Wolf out and away from the thorny path of solitude and confused identity. The music pushes forward in a natural movement of growth like tendrils reaching for sunlight as Wolf takes stock of his life thus far:

Fearless fifteen
First came that dream
To be seen
To know love
The world
And all its stages

Now 25
Look, made it alive
And what a life
I have known
Not going to stop
Never fully grown

The last words on the album are “When all else fails/Remember/Always/The open road” as the music ends in a classical way, almost like the satisfying resolution of a symphony performance. Perhaps as the resolution first sought in Hard Times. At the same time, it remains open, as Wolf vows to relinquish his fears and keep stretching his boundaries. And in that impulse, Wolf displays his humanity, including the flaws that keep him running and yearning. Having stumbled home in tired tatters, he is ready to venture out anew.

Patrick Wolf both asserts and bemoans his independence in The Bachelor in a moving display of honesty about desire, disappointment and despair. This record take you on a journey of Wolf’s fight to find his way through his own wants and to come to terms with the world around him. Wolf’s wasteland is, like T.S. Eliot’s, simultaneously medieval and modern. I’m very curious and excited about next year’s companion record, The Conqueror, the title of which Wolf has said refers to his current boyfriend, William, to whom he also writes a tender note in the liner thank-yous. In his desperate, lonely moments on The Bachelor, where he wonders if he will ever find someone that fits him, Patrick Wolf connects to me, and my loneliness and latent fears and worries, and likely those of so many of us. There may never be complete resolution for my own issues, but this record makes me feel like revolution is possible. My financial investment is negligible when compared to my emotional investment in this album.

Hard Times – Patrick Wolf

Who Will? – Patrick Wolf

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Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

Photobucket

Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

Photobucket

Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

Photobucket

Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

Photobucket

I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

Photobucket

You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

Photobucket

Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

Photobucket

Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

Photobucket

Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

Photobucket

Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

Photobucket

And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

Photobucket

My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

Photobucket

Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

Photobucket

We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

Photobucket

Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

Photobucket

LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

Photobucket

Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

Photobucket

You must let her go

She's not crying

Photobucket

Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

Photobucket

So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

Photobucket

No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

Photobucket

All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

Photobucket

Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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