Patrick Wolf – Wind In The Wires
Patrick Wolf’s second album was a very last-minute choice for this week’s DRC; I have a list of potential future choices saved on my computer’s desktop, but nothing there was really speaking to me as I pondered what to choose. Then, all of a sudden as I got home and prepared to hit the road for Sidmouth, this struck me as being an obvious choice. Subliminally perhaps I felt a thread or theme running through from my other choices; Tom pointed out during the evening that I had chosen three solo artists, and all English, for our first three meetings.
And three English solo artists who all make music very much influenced by and about England itself, too; from Bark Psychosis’ evocation of crepuscular urban landscapes and the people within them to Polly Jean’s exploration of the emotions of war and how conflict has shaped and scarred our nation, and now to Patrick Wolf’s meandering, wounded troubadour escape from London to Penzance, taking in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s coastal railway line through Devon, howling atop Cornish cliffs, and the emotional peril of self-discovery.
I was interested in Patrick Wolf from his debut album, 2003’s spitting Lycnathropy, which tied up violin-folk with glitchy beats and Freudian wailing, but the reserve of Wind In The Wires, his second album from 2005, was what made me a fan. Seeing Patrick perform these songs live, stripped to voice, one instrument (violin, ukulele, or piano), and a barefooted drummer, at Exeter’s Phoenix made me fall absolutely in love with this record, though. There’s a musicality, a compositional ease, about the way he moves through a tune and from tune to tune that manifests here which few of his contemporaries can get close to.
Patrick himself is a divisive figure, though; I know some music fans and writers who cannot stand to listen to his records for the ostentation and diva-ish-ness they perceive as being his character. I interviewed him (over the phone) once, and found him to be compelling and compassionate, if a little controlling (he is a complete perfectionist regarding his music). His hair has regularly been coloured shocking red or stark blonde, his face glittered, his wardrobe veering into sparkly silver shoes or ostentatious feathered capes; in short, he is, and can be, and will be in the future, a glam figure, stomping and strutting. But here, on this record, he is stripped back (even if the arrangements aren’t, necessarily). It’s the only album cover (of four so far) where his hair in the cover photo is (close to) its natural colour.
So the record begins with a song about being tired of the scene in London, leeched dry by libertines and lasciviousness, and winds its way to space and fresh air in Cornwall, depicting the journey, epiphanies along the way, a period of realisation, and finally, to close, the return leg back home, enervated and positive and with a finished record to press. It could be taken as a concept album if one wanted. I adore it. But what would Devon Record Club think?
Rob listened: I think both Tom and I were expecting something a little more theatrical from Patrick Wolf. From my perspective, having formed a rounded judgement largely by flicking past his album covers in the racks, I thought we’d get the bastard offspring of Elton John and Julian Cope. Instead this seems the very essence of pastoral Elgartronica. I confess I wasn’t convinced at first. Something about that voice, and its background, sounded too forced, to keen to be something, to say something. Pretentious, in the true sense. Nick’s defence was well-marshalled, and by the time the closing tracks came around, I started to get a feel for why Wolf might inspire such devotion.
Really glad to hear it.
Tom listened: I was very pleasantly surprised by this album – it was nothing like I was expecting and, once I had gone through the excruciating process of trying to recall who his voice reminded me of (Josh T Pearson from Lift to Experience to save you the bother), I realised that I had been completely drawn in by the album and was really enjoying what I was hearing. The experience of having my expectations confounded by this record really got me thinking about how detrimental image, perceived personality and prejudice is when listening to music and how, despite finding the record fascinating, I still am finding it a little difficult to see beyond the overblown theatrics I had witnessed on Later…with Jools Holland. More fool me!