Hungry like the Wolf

Patrick Wolf plays the Epstein Theatre next month, touring an album marking 10 years of pristine, sing-it-from-the rooftop sounds…

It’s a decade since singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf’s first album was released. That record, the intriguingly titled Lycanthropy (Wolf was obsessed with Angela Carter’s novel, The Brotherhood of The Wolf, at the time of its genesis), brought with it a new British star dripping with pedigree and mythology to burn.

Discovered and nurtured at the tender age of 16 by indie label Fat Cat Records, four years later, Wolf (a pseudonym apparently awarded him by a Parisian clairvoyant) seemed tailor-made for crossover stardom coming, as he appeared to, fully-formed. Boasting a mastery of violin, viola, harp and harpsichord, the former prodigy’s debut had the vivid songs to match his theatricality.

By the time his third studio album came along, 2007’s The Magic Position (featuring a collaboration with Marianne Faithfull, on the track Magpie), Wolf had signed to Loog Records and graduated from his folksy early sound to full-blown pop (albeit augmented by  a retinue of electronic bleeps and bloops), best illustrated by the single of the same name. That switch, which could have alienated a loyal fan base (creatively dubbed ‘The Wolf Pack’) and the critics, saw the Londoner receive some of his best reviews to date; the NME and Drowned in Sound each awarding TMP eight out of 10.

“In The Magic Position, Wolf had found his signature sound”

For all the early fanfare and promise – and the blanket critical acclaim – which greeted his arrival, it seemed that in The Magic Position, Wolf had found his signature sound, from then on polishing and perfecting a sophisticated multi-faceted pop that – one is certain – is harder achieved than he makes it look. Oddly, that combination of theatricality, performance and pop hasn’t been enough to see Wolf bewitch the charts and popular press in any sustained way.

Indeed, for all of his musicianship, flair for presentation and easy charisma, Wolf – bizarrely – has lacked hits. For example, that first sojourn into pop, The Magic Position, climbed only as high as number 46 in the UK charts, before presumably developing a nose bleed; while his highest charting effort has been 2011’s Lupercalia, peaking at 37.

As such, last year’s Sundark and Riverlight, a double-album featuring re-worked, acoustic versions of songs from the ten years of his career so far, isn’t so much a ‘greatest hits’ as it is a celebration of a decade in the industry, and of his power of reinvention – all the while seemingly unbowed by convention or the unrealistic expectations of the business.

Wolf’s first decade though, rather than flattering to deceive, has brought with it an artist boasting a rare and pristine brand of jubilant yet thoughtful pop, and it’s the celebration of this milestone which sees Wolf embarking on an acoustic tour offering fans and newcomers alike the opportunity to assess five albums (one every other year) worth of material.

Listening back to those tracks in this fashion, one can’t escape the thought that, simply because Wolf’s output hasn’t had the sales to match the critical acclaim, it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have.

Patrick Wolf 8pm @ The Epstein Theatre Thursday the 7th February £15 + BF advance £17.50 on the Door

Posted on 25/01/2013 by thedoublenegative