on 9 January 2010
Patrick Wolf came onto my radar a few years ago with The Magic Position, a delightfully catchy, somewhat indie release evocative of early Human League, so my initial reaction to The Bachelor was utter shock - an amazed shock, nonetheless; indie-pop melodies had been abandoned in favour of a wreckless, independent, but entirely ambitious venture into a dark, extravagant territory hitherto uninhabited. The Bachelor is the first half of the double release Battle, with The Conqueror to follow later in 2010, and is in all honesty the most extraordinary and wonderfully artistic undertaking I've ever heard. Wolf appears to defy genre, combining a sort of post-new wave electronica with an abundance of strings, choirs, and an incredibly diverse array of instruments including everything from the ukulele to the sitar.
From start to finish, the album is nothing short of epic. Individually, the tracks are so vastly diverse that at first listen, the album appears disjointed, but upon closer inspection, coalesce to craft an unexpectedly solid and altogether elegant whole. Themes from the deepest melancholy through to fiery determination, political commentary and wild romanticism are covered throughout, and reveal an incredible musical talent as well as a mastery of lyricism. Traditional Celtic, almost medieval folk music is interspersed with sinister, simultaneously futuristic and retro sounds, as well as stripped down, emotionally raw ballads enhanced by awe-inspiring string arrangements, heart-wrenching lyrics and Wolf's chilling voice, reminiscent of both Phil Oakey and Antony Hegarty.
The single Hard Times amalgamates orchestral strings with a thumping techno beat, revolutionary by nature and perfectly-suited to rally the masses in a grand exclamation regarding the state of contemporary music. In a world where manufactured "artists" rule the airwaves, Wolf laments how "mediocrity is applauded" and "ignorance is still adored", yet leaves us with a positive determination - "in these hard times, I'll work harder, harder, for revolution."
The haunting Damaris wrenches at emotion; the tragedy of the tale of a lover's demise intensified by moving lyrics ("nobody knows how I wait for you, summer, spring, autumn, winter, here perishing"), breathtaking strings and a choral plea to "rise up from the earth". In The Sun is Often Out, we are left mourning another death, wondering what happened to one whose body was found in the river, about whom Wolf seems both grief-stricken and angry, questioning "was your work of art so heavy that it would not let you live?"
The stand-out Vultures is an incredibly dark, sinister, and altogether mesmerising throwback to the eighties, whose synthesisers and ominous cries of "d-d-d-d-dead meat" are nothing short of spine-chilling. However it is the title track which becomes the gem; another genre-defiant track telling of a lonesome bachelor, desperately professing "I'm not going to marry in the fall, and I'm not going to marry in the spring, I will never marry, marry at all, no one will wear my silver ring," creating an enormous sense of admiration, pity, and compassion.
Overall, The Bachelor is wonderfully intelligent, grandiose, and ambitious, and is as uniquely distinct as it is melodically relatable. It tackles more styles, uses more instruments, tells more stories and hits more emotions than anything else on the radar today, and is a tantalizing treat which only heightens anticipation for The Conqueror. Wolf, at a mere 26 years of age, possesses a raw talent, creativity and wisdom beyond his years, and one can only hope his brilliance destines him for even greater things. This is, unquestionably, the must-have of the decade.