Patrick Wolf’s mid-life thesis
His sixth album Sundark and Riverlight showcases classical reworkings of his hits thus far
More from Jack Cullen
...and so is essentially a self-requested midlife retrospective. I say “hits”, but it remains a mild tragedy of pop that Patrick Wolf never received the commercial success that his shocking myriad of talents deserve.
An indulgent treat for P-Wolf fans, the double album manages to stand alone as its own musical journey but only just. Much of the pleasure comes from reflection and comparison but Sundark and Riverlight could be an interesting starting point for new fans too. Imagine the delight of hearing a soulful acoustic rendition of Vulture only to discover afterwards that the original song was pretty much a techno track and came with its own edgy sadomasochist video!
With Sundark and Riverlight Patrick seems to be following one of his idols Kate Bush, although perhaps unconsciously. The double album mirrors the layout of Aerial and marries it with this idea of repurposing one’s back catalogue, a challenge that Kate gave herself last year with Director’s Cut. Like Kate Bush too, Patrick’s latest material is very quiet and subtle, threatening an end to the glory years without acknowledging or lamenting their departure.
I love Patrick Wolf and the epic story of his discography deeply, but I don’t think I’m being too unfair in saying that Sundark and Riverlight is a bit of a dinner party twinkler. The double album is a beautiful listening experience but it moves too slowly and courteously to hold pure interest throughout. It’s a domestic project, more of a glorified DVD extra than a blockbuster.
Still, I was cynical about Patrick’s fifth album Lupercalia when that came out last year but sure enough over the months I’ve seen certain tracks (“Together” and “The Falcons”) rise right to the summit of my iTunes play count.
I think my problem with Patrick is that I was so spiritually and sexually switched on by his Bachelor tour, the sight of this fantastic pale Burberry doll thrashing out in high heels and shoulder pads to flashing lights and programmed techno beats, that I’m never going to quite get over the seemingly unnecessary disappearance of that person, that pop star. An eighteen year old me wanted Patrick Wolf to fill the glass slippers that nobody has yet managed to fill – those of the male Lady Gaga.
Instead we have to make do with a different kind of action figure, one who comes kitted out with violins, harps and touching stage whispers. The civil partnership Patrick who isn’t quite as cool as the gay rock star that we once glimpsed.
However, we should all treasure Patrick’s musical offerings however softly packaged they come. I think it was David Hockney who once said that in the twenty-first century nothing is more controversial than genuine sentiment. And in Patrick we have lots of that.
If you’re reading this Patrick - an album of Aqua covers next please.
What your aunt bought you for Christmas:
What you really wanted: