Album Review: Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor

July 28, 2009

The spiceman cometh.

Concept: Classically trained performer Patrick Wolf tries to develop a romantic and sweeping commentary on our times.

Sound: As much as megaflamboyant costume fetishist Wolf wants and tries to be David Bowie 2, now with more homoeroticism, he just can’t. That has nothing to do with the sound, of course…or does it? A like-minded album released earlier this year, St. Vincent’s Actor, had more or less the same setup: lush instrumental combinations, themes of restlessness and weightlessness in the machine, ridiculously high production quality. What’s the distinction? With more concept albums this year than we could possibly want, the bar has been raised, and even the most fantastical arrangements are at risk of transparency. Case in point, The Hazards Of Love, which caught its creators squeezing dry all the wrong elements of antiquity, a lady of the lake keychain from the gift shop that screams ‘who the hell cares’. At least Patrick has tried to dispense the colorful if overwrought plaster dinosaurs…but classical training is not equivalent to classical quality, and no one on earth could confuse the tempestuous voices of Bach’s Toccata And Fugue In D Minor with the violin beat of Hard Times. Wolf falls back on orchestra and choir whenever he hears himself approximating Fallout Boy. His strength is his willingness to dabble in various styles, and this album’s increasing focus on a baroque-pop techno blend, or ‘folktronica‘ as his Wiki page calls it, disarms him and leaves his pomp and circumstance with no resolution or decent use. The songs may be infectious at first, but their repetition exists not only within them but between them, and what started as an epic swoon ends in a deadpan wipeout.

Lyrics: You can expect Mr. Wolf to coordinate, and that’s as positive a statement as can be made. Reaching for a universal truth, he just ends up making out with his hand. Unlike his previous efforts, The Bachelor shows his ambitions to be a mile long and an inch deep. This is often the trouble with getting political. It isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. It won’t even be the last for him: the second half of his concept arch, The Conqueror, drops next year.

Quick And Dirty: Strong-willed hits aside, the album doesn’t play to any of Wolf’s strengths except his commanding inner/outer drama queen. (♦♦♦)

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