Joy, passion, fireworks and fucking. And worms too. All in the face of adversity. That's my simple take on Patrick Wolf's new CD The Magic Position. The record is a melding of Patrick's previous two albums - the DIY electronica of the debut and the raw woodwind-iness of the second album. The songs here are not only more confident than anything he's done before, but even more epic, if possible. He's 23 and he's managed to get Marianne Faithfull into the studio with him. That should say something.
I've decided, after listening to the album for two months, to do a track by track review...
Overture: A favorite of many fans, it begins with tribal drums followed by all the sounds you're used to from Patrick - percussion, violins, some inevitable unidentified instruments that no one uses anymore. There's something about the title of the song that has made it hard for me to grasp it though.
Unintentionally funny line: "Look back at that boy back on his way to school / With such a heavy heart, such a heavy jewel..." (it sounds like heavy tool)
The Magic Position: Classic. I've described this before as Patrick's version of True Blue, but this literal stomper is so much more than that. The most joyous song he's done yet, you hear it and understand the crazy technicolor album cover. Pay attention to the complex layers of fiddles of and organic beats in the final minute. He's very good at doing cacophony, while maintaining melody and structure. First appearance of bluebirds on the record, by the way.
Fave line: "So let the people talk / this Monday morning walk / Right past the fabulous mess we're in."
Accident And Emergency: Close in style to songs from his first record, this one hammers one of the albums themes - that the unexpected, even painful, makes you stronger. I should note that the wintry French horns on the bridge are like beautiful birds... in the rafters at a rock concert! video
The whole point of the song comes down to the bridge: "If you never lose, how are you gonna know when you've won? / If it's never dark, well how you gonna know the sun when it shines?"
Bluebell: The first of several interlude/songlets. This one works well enough as a set change from the last "scene" and an intro to the recent single called...
Bluebells: A grower. It seemed out of focus the first few times I played it, but now I hear the detail, especially the way the fireworks whizzing noise ends with the bang of a drum - the same drums that end up giving the song its backbone. There is also a sense of menace about this song that reminds me very much of Kate Bush. video
Favorite lines: "Deep in a dream, I set the compass to spinning / Your love has come too late / Away from the garden gate / Wake me up when the bluebells are ringing."
Magpie: Hushed and almost classical, this song sounds like it could have been recorded back when Van Morrison was in his imperial period. You have to accept that Patrick will often go for the highest drama in a song: he's very Heathcliff and Cathy in that sense, wailing across the moors. Given that context, Marianne Faithfull's vocals are perfect for this song. I love the little moment at minute 3 when the voices say, multi-tracked, "We will sing."
The Kiss: Patrick throws away the potential of that title on a minute long interlude of little violin noises. Who cares, because the next song is...
Augustine: Holy shit! The finest song, I think, that Patrick has ever done. It pisses all over everything else on the record, lyrically and vocally. The usual detail is here: the visuals of worms, weeds, and wooden beams, the rolling pianos at 3:21, the impassioned way he wails the oh-oh's on the second line of the chorus (1:45) and the way he places the emphasis in the "t" in got (3:46) and hot (3:51). The way he stops the song at 2:47 with a quizzical "is it?"
I can't pick a favorite line, so the the post below will have the full lyric. I do think the ending is incredibly seductive though:"Be my loving nurse / as we fall back / into the / impossible dream."
Secret Garden: Useless interlude, probably designed to bridge the heavy mood of the previous song with the jauntiness of the next one. A lot of white noise and feedback here.Get Lost: Another track that begins with what sounds like an alarm. It's taken me a long to to wrm up to this song. It's very youthful with references to bikes and cinema and being bored. I guess I find it a little forced, though I hear what he was trying to do.
Enchanted: It is. A piano bar song, unlike anything Patrick has done before. The lyrics are sweet, if a wee bit overdone, perhaps intentionally. It's like an aural version of shabby chic!
Favorite line: "From all of the maddening crowds/ The orchard is leaning her boughs / To hear our laughter / and we roll in the ardor."
The Stars: Before I heard the full album, I assumed this would be the standout track, as it's totally new for Patrick, almost drum and bass with its ticky rhythm. Lyrically, it leaves the earth and goes into the night sky, with the constellations described. The first half of the song is really a prelude to its heart, starting at 2:33. The final minute is a chill inducing climb into heaven. One of the prettiest musical moments of 2007, without a doubt.
Favorite lines: "So now, to the one with the never-ending, invisible scars: Look up! Look up! The stars!"
It just makes me want to cry cry cry.
Needlessly, Patrick tracks on a vague instrumental postlude called, durrr, Finale. He could have just faded out The Stars, but instead he has this droney end that sort of dulls the final minute I described above. Whatever, I just cut it right off my playlist for this album.
As predicted, the reviewers are not being kind to Patrique. The Independent, which I shall not link to, is predictably cunty and smug, managing to flay Tori Amos at the same time. This isn't a perfect album, as I've said, but it's a beautiful and totally original step forward, especially given the pop music we're offered these days. The visuals he's using for the record - the merry-go-round, the Peter Pan clothes and orange hair - I do not see this album breaking him much bigger. The music is worthy, but it's going to take listeners as he brave as he is to join him now. Whatever, The Magic Position is, without a doubt, a gift for his fans.