Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia
The Magic Position was meant to be Patrick Wolf's commercial breakthrough back in 2007. Major label, bright presentation, glittery songs in (clap, clap) the major key. It didn't really happen. He went away and made The Bachelor, a darker, more personal and dense album funded by fans and released on his own label. It was a tremendous album but one that was stylistically all over the pace and took a lot of living with to get. I assumed that that was it as far as his chances of making it to the mainstream, and that a future of similarly difficult albums as a self-releasing cult act was ahead. Hopefully not involving Twitter as a full time job and auctioning off his possessions Amanda Palmer style.
In 2011, though, he was back on a major label again, and released a fifth album which finally saw his music more widely embraced and in the top 40 and on the radio (albeit the previously unlikely Radio 2!). Not only that, but Lupercalia is his best album yet, a cynicism-destroying celebration of love with his talent and ambition as forceful as ever and his strength at maximalist pop finally given free rein over a whole album, inspired by his engagement to fiancé William. He even gets namechecked on the brief electro interval of the same name, which yes, really does end with the line 'William, will you be my conqueror?'. As made clear by that and Patrick's rant last time I saw him about negative responses to the saxophones in "The City", this is not an album which recognises the concept of cheesiness.
Patrick has always had a way with writing grand, sweeping songs which hit with an elemental force but are still believably intimate and personal. Lupercalia drops some of the more ornate detailing for comparably straightforward love songs, but that's all still true and he manages to bring new perspectives to even this oldest of topics. "Bermondsey Street" is the biggest statement on love in the wider rather than personal sense (and its chorus is ridiculously, gloriously big, swelling with feeling and pride). Love is for everyone and anyone, it says, illustrating it with two mirrored proposals, both couples declaring theirs 'the greatest love of the century'. The obviously striking detail is the way its first line 'she kisses him on Bermondsey Street' is swapped out in the second verse for 'he kisses him on Bermondsey Street'. After reading so many suggested wedding vows with that phrase 'You may now kiss the bride', I can't help but see 'she kisses him' as a pointed reversal of the norm too, though.
"House" brings a great deal of sophistication and thought in to its hymn to the possibilities brought about by the security of a relationship, but Patrick still sings it with a heart-on-sleeve urgency: never has contented domesticity sounded so bloody exciting. Its something repeated in "The Future" which eventually builds to 'The threshold appears and I am carrying you over/Carrying me over!/Into the best days of the rest of our lives' as the track bursts into life, guitars and choirs driving home the all-encompassing joy.
On "Together”, which combines Patrick’s mile-wide romanticism with a deep disco pulse to incredible effect, the message is not “I can’t go on without you” but “I can go on without you, but it would be a bit rubbish, so let’s not, please”. It feels entirely natural but is uncommonly refreshing. It still allows his love to feel monumental, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and powering the most ecstatic chorus of the year. And oh, the strings! The sweep up and out of the spoken bit! I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to it (last.fm says 32, I'm not sure I trust it), but like Lupercalia as a whole, it still makes me so happy every time.