Yes, I’m sorry, I got my hands on an album early though less-than golden means. I know music typically isn’t the domain of this blog, in fact, I’m pretty positive that there hasn’t been a single album review posted at all, unless someone slipped one in after catching wind of my password.
The album in question? Patrick Wolf’s “The Bachelor,” a long-anticipated, formerly-double album that sees everyone’s favorite musical bizzaro adopting yet another persona. This time, he’s not trying to be a sort of twisted pop maniac like he was on his last release, “The Magic Position,” nor is he trying to express his coming-of-age through twisted and often foul imagery, as he often did in his debut, “Lycanthropy.” Instead, he’s taking a more grand approach, with the album taking the theme of epic battles, both grand and external, with swords clashing, and internal, with the burden of artistic expression and self-doubt sitting heavy throughout the album.
The problem with “The Bachelor” is that it’s not overtly brilliant, there are few moments on the album which will either make your hair stand on end like previous songs like “The Libertine” or wow you with their popish simplicity “The Magic Position” being the best example of this. (save for the thoroughly brilliant ode “Theseus,” a re-telling of the myth of the minataur and the hero’s selfish journey through life, attaining glory and compassion for himself…all c0-narrated by actress Tilda Swinton!)
This is an album that burns slowly, there’s a learning curve to the ornate orchestration that fills the album. In fact, the entire thing is nearly entirely held up by Wolf’s earnestness, even when delving into the ridiculous eccentricities of his persona, and the beautiful strings that bathe most songs in a soothing water that leaves you easing back, relaxing and appreciating the music on it’s own merit, vocals and lyrics be darned.
“The Sun is Often Out” is the best example, with its sweeping climax of violins and cellos allowing a Wolf and a choir to raise up and sing the title, before all falls quiet and Wolf whispers, “Was your work of art so heavy, that it would not let you live?”
As a whole, I have to say that “The Bachelor” doesn’t reach the peaks Wolf has reached before, the album, despite its original sound still rings familiar to his previous work, something no previous LP from him has done. So why has it sat in my listening queue since I obtained it? Why do I find myself listening to it time and time again?
There’s something about its mood, the intangibles that make a good album great. Swinton isn’t just a one-song appearance, her presence is felt throughout the album as she serves as a strange guide through Wolf’s trials. Thematically, it’s a collection of songs that begin with “Hard Times” and “Oblivion,” with a sort of doom lingering behind each song. Slowly, as the album progresses, victories are made, the tide is turned and the weary traveler turns into “The Messenger,” who goes worldwide to express his own sorrows and joys to the masses. Unsurprisingly, it mirrors Wolf’s own experiences over the past few years, in which he nearly retired from music due to depression, and now seems to have found his muse once again.
It’s not an album for everyone, and the cover art is easily some of the worst I’ve ever seen, but there’s something ultimately uplifting about “The Bachelor” that ensues my return, time after time. It’s not an album that tries to be majestic pop, like many of this year’s bigger releases from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Phoenix, nor does it trip over its own bombast and devolve into tedium and unoriginality like the recent Decemberists effort. So if you can get over some cheesiness, and a bit of oddity…wait for it to come out. Who downloads music these days? Geez…crazy kids.