Patrick Wolf

Do you believe in magic?

Patrick Wolf has had enough raw experience in his 23 years to fill a box-set of albums. Alexander Kennedy gets to grips with his unique brand of sublime pop.

Vicious little Dorothy Parker got it right when she said that the term ‘artist’ is overused, and that the category of ‘art’ is not elastic. It isn’t fashionable to say this, of course, where a restrictive version of ‘inclusion’ has meant that we can all be artists. Patrick Wolf, who releases his third album The Magic Position this month, at the age of 23, is a modest but enormously gifted artist, standing out amidst a generation of singers who imagine themselves to be greater than they are, but who lack any sense of the risks and dedication that are required to make the leap from entertainment into, well, art. We might not like it, but real pain does seem to help that ascension.

Wolf’s songs tell the true story; you only need to half listen to them to be shocked at what this young man has been through. After a horrific time at school in Cornwall, and a mercy dash to London at the age of 15 to play a Theremin (that he had built himself) with the performance artist Leigh Bowery’s band, Minty, Wolf managed to eventually find something resembling security.

His debut album Lycanthropy, released in 2003, showed off his precocious talent to great effect; each song exploded with wit, vim, and electrifying anger. The depth of emotion portrayed and his knack for a sharp lyric that slashed though the mind’s surface betrayed his tender years - he was still only 18. Wind in the Wires, his second, more lyrical, pastoral album, records his flight from the city back to the coast. Accordions evoke sea shanties and the soaring violin dips in and out of eastern European folk music.

This third album, The Magic Position can be more easily understood as a pop album, an extremely confident, realistic and traditional response to love and love lost. The city and nature still seem to be dragging him in different directions, with the urban electronic percussive sounds and the softer folksy tones of the violin and the piano emphasising that tension.

The first three tracks (‘Overture’, ‘The Magic Position’ and ‘Accident and Emergency’) are pure, glorious, intelligent pop music with handclaps, a throbbing, soulful brass section, children’s voices, joyous whoops and instantly memorable choruses that make you smile. At heart this record is about the acceptance, integration and celebration of extreme emotional states of elation and anxiety.

Light needs darkness, and by the time we reach the fourth and fifth tracks, the mood shifts. After every high comes the inevitable low, and the subject matter turns away from the heady celebrations of love to the black earth, the end of summer and autumnal melancholia. Marianne Faithful appears on the duet ‘Magpie’, her unmistakable pained voice swaying back and forth between Wolf’s sweeter responses.

The darkness lifts again and we ascend from the underworld for the final three tracks. ‘The Stars’ sparkles with optimism, its comforting lullaby chorus acting as a welcome salve. This is a well-conceived collection, a journey into, and then out of, the dark night of the soul. Expect stars, black fireworks and almost-angelic choruses live.

Oran Mor, Glasgow, Fri 23 Feb. The Magic Position is released Mon 26 Feb on Loog.

Have a wee listen

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