Why does everybody hate Patrick Wolf?

In the interest of disclosure, I don’t hate Patrick Wolf. I love Patrick Wolf. Back in the days of Stylus, I reviewed his debut album, his third album, and I interviewed him too. I covered his second album for eMusic as well, which I’d completely forgotten about until just now when google reminded me.

Two years ago he provided three of my favourite songs of the year, and my favourite gig-experience, too. In fact he’s provided several memorable gig-going moments over the years, even when he’s been rubbish. I have, after vague moments of trepidation upon first contact, loved both of his recent singles too, and I’m looking forward to Lupercalia, his fifth album, immensely.

But I know a lot of people hate him. Friends of mine, serious music fans, have said pretty foul things about him and his music, things that I don’t understand at all, things that seem as if they’re talking about someone else, some other music. His latest single, The City, is a rollicking, tip-toppermost pop tune, laden with hooks and melody and a barrelling tempo, and it failed to hit the top 100. We regrettably can’t attend his gig in Manchester in a week and are trying to pass off our tickets to friends who can make it, but seemingly no one wants them. I do not understand.

I played his second album a few weeks ago at Devon Record Club, and both Tom and Rob were unsure when I revealed what I’d brought along; both of them found they enjoyed the record despite those misgivings, discovering something much less dramatic and gaudy than they expected. Certainly his debut is shoutier, more priapic, more adolescent, and his later albums are more flamboyant, grander, his stage-show these days a definite show, with costume-changes and mirrorballs and special guests (Florence Welch, Alex Empire), but…

Throughout all the music Patrick Wolf has released so far in his career (four albums with one due soon, and he’s not yet 28), there’s a musicality, a fluidity, a grace, and a melodicism to his songwriting that, for me, would transcend all the electronic splurges, the flamboyant showboating, the love of drama and poetry and passionate commitment to his art that might seem to others to be narcissism, if all those seeming pejoratives weren’t actually just as much a part of the attraction.

Because who wants boring popstars? Wolf, to my eyes and ears, is a far more compelling character than Lady Gaga, more boundary-pushing musically (and just as boundary-pushing personally), more tuneful, just as easily identifiable, as brandable, if perhaps not as consistently dancefloor-friendly.

Maybe it’s that people are still scared of homosexuality, especially when it’s not manifested within strictly delineated and accepted paths. Homosexuality manifested as flamboyant camp is perhaps acceptable when it’s delivered with an undertone of impotence (and thus safety), but it petrifies when the voice is deep and the stride long. Patrick Wolf isn’t gay, but a (thus far) vacillating figure; he’s been involved in long-term relationships with both sexes, and only came-out as being with a man just before his last album (when I’d seen people insist he must be gay because of his music, his lyrics, his dress, from the start of his career, even when he was part of a heterosexual couple).

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not his character or his sexuality or his aesthetic. Maybe it’s just his music, his voice, which I find delicious and moving and beautiful, but which others find unpleasant. You tell me.

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15 responses to “Why does everybody hate Patrick Wolf?

  1. I’m a big fan of Patrick Wolf, too, and among the mostly straight, overwhelmingly male, indie rock fans I know, he elicits the same reaction. I think a lot of people want to put him in the “guilty pleasure” category, which makes no sense considering how immensely talented he is.

    “Homosexuality manifested as flamboyant camp is perhaps acceptable when it’s delivered with an undertone of impotence (and thus safety), but it petrifies when the voice is deep and the stride long.”

    This. Camp is okay as long as it’s safely “other.” There’s definitely an underlying current of homophobia in indie (a term I’m using loosely because Patrick Wolf’s music is sort of unclassifiable, and it’s incredibly early where I am and I can’t think of a better pigeonhole), that’s never really addressed. I’m putting the onus of guys here, but most of the music fans I know are straight men, and that kind of flash, but with sincerity, makes them uncomfortable.

  2. I haven’t listened to a lot of Patrick Wolf, but I like his music. I’ve seen him at least thrice (and one of those shows was absolutely terrific), but I don’t own any of his records (I have a pretty good knowledge of the third album, which my bro’ owns, and a few other tunes)…
    I’d certainly agree that indie retains an “underlying current of homophobia” (perhaps not even all that underlying?), but I’m not sure that there’s anything peculiar going on here. Patrick Wolf has plenty of fans. I know plenty of good musicians who an only dream of having the audience he does. I haven’t heard The City, but nothing I’ve heard from him other than The Magic Position seems to me music to appeal to a mainstream audience.
    In short I tend to think that his failure (if we’re going to consider it that, and as I’ve implied, I’m not sure I do) to reach a broader audience is less to do with his persona, and more to do with his songs. To me he’s a captivating performer, but only a good musician / writer. Sure he plays a few instruments, but I’m not sure he’s all that good at any of them (I’m very open to changing my mind on this, though; its a judgement based on my memories of his live shows more than his records), and to me he’s not all that good a singer either.
    I agree with Nick’s inclination to praise the sheer musicality of the records, but I don’t agree that his songs (based – obviously – on those I’ve heard) are all that grace, or suggest that great a melodic talent at work.

  3. Graceful!

  4. Listened to the City last night. Really like it. He is a good singer too; I was probably a touch unfair on that front.

    I maintain that his melodic talents aren’t all that, though, but I’d be keen to hear the rest of the album.

  5. Because I respect Nick’s taste, I’ve listened to a couple of Patrick Wolf’s albums. Except for “Overture” from the Magic Position, none of the songs stuck. I love that song, but I have yet to have any sort of positive reaction to the rest of his work (or, to be fair, much of a negative reaction; my reaction to Wolf in general is that I respect what he’s doing but don’t love it). I’m a heterosexual male. I’m not sure whether that has anything to do with it; I don’t think it does, but how could I tell?

  6. Ian, you could try turning gay or female and then reassess?

  7. You don’t have to be gay to fancy Patrick Wolf.

  8. On that last.fm demographics plot that did the rounds a while back, Patrick Wolf’s listener profile on last.fm came up as skewed more strongly female than anyone else that I listen to – I think the 4 that skewed the next most were all female singers.

    Have never seen anything that offputting in his persona myself, although maybe coming into contact with Wind in the Wires (which I would agree is the most approachable in some ways) first helped. His unpredictable moods have admittedly made a couple of gigs go needlessly badly and might have put me off someone I loved less musically, though he’s put on one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen too (at the Palladium).

    I want to love The City but the saxophone is still putting me off, I think.

  9. Thank you!

    How bizarre that Owen Pallett has a much more male demographic. And how butch are The Bluetones?!

    Looking at other lists, only Warpaint and Bat For Lashes have a more female demographic, with PJ Harvey close by.

  10. Meant to reply and then, er, didn’t. Finally getting back to this via your Quietus review and your music diary project which I will definitely take part in.

    Owen Pallett was the first name that came to my mind when I was trying to think of anyone similar to compare as well. I think the difference in their stats makes sense as due to a lot of what everyone’s been saying, though – Owen as a persona is much less prominent in his music and act (no costume changes live, not pictured clearly on any album cover, didn’t even use his own name at first). Plus his music is not as directly personal, doesn’t have the same kind of obvious sincerity (think Kathy hit on something crucial there!) and it’s maybe not that surprising that someone who lyrically filters his feelings through themes from Dungeons & Dragons and video games ends up with more of a male audience?

    I find Bat for Lashes the closest act to Patrick in feel (from the album covers on in) so it’s interesting that she’s one of the ones who is even further over on the demographics. She definitely lacks the same kind of confrontational edge as he has though, which is maybe a large part of why she’s a lot more popular.

  11. I am a hetrosexual male ‘indie’ fan who has LOVED everything patrick has done since i started listening about halfway between his 2nd and 3rd albums.

    I read James comments, and almost completely disagree, I think patrick is a fantastic singer, and can play many instruments all to very high levels, playing live, especially with acoustic instruments whilst dancing around the stage and especially singing at the same time is incredibly tricky to do – if you watch some of his acoustic stuff on youtube, eg bluebells where its just him, a piano and someone on the violin/viola/whatever it is fantasticley done.

    I have never really come across anyone that has said they dont like, or hate patrick, most of the people I know are either into different music, or have just not really listened

  12. I have been a massive fan of Patrick Wolf since he first came out. I don’t understand how anyone could think of him as untalented. However, I do not like his fourth album, nor the song ‘the City’ that has been released. It does not have the raw, unbridled energy and beauty that his other albums have – they are just pop, electro mumbo jumbo that I’ve heard before. And they don’t showcase his amazing voice and musical talents.
    The Patrick Wolf I love is best seen in his songs “Wind in the Wires”, “The Hazelwood”, “The Childcatcher” and most of all “Penzance”. If you listen to the latter, I don’t see how you cannot love him. It brings me to tears every time I listen to it. It truly strikes me deep.
    His new stuff doesn’t do this, though. It has an easy tune, but there is nothing that makes me shiver like his old stuff, where he was just a young boy who wanted to express his world view in the only way he knew how, not like today where the is much of a Lady Gaga influence, where flamboyance and mainstream appeal is the focus.
    However, I will always love Patrick Wolf. I will buy his new album, and love it or hate it, will always be a fan. We will always have his first three albums (and some of the fourth) as a testomony to his musical genius.

  13. I’m more than a bit late to this article, but I found it interesting nonetheless. I’d only recently discovered the hate that some people really have for Patrick and his work on the web, and it really surprised me.

    I’ve been a fan of Patrick’s since just after The Magic Position’s release, when I found Tristan by chance through someone with similar interests to myself on the web. I got really into the song, then decided to check Patrick out, and became enraptured with his work as a whole. Unlike some people, I even adore the fact that his stuff is rather inconsistent and varied. I really love artists who can cross genres and manage to make songs I adore even in genres I normally don’t. I enjoy the fact that I never know what’s coming next, and would be in the minority who would be sad if he picked a niche and stayed in it. It’s a refreshing thing for an artist to try new things and evolve in different ways over the years.

    I’m kind of a natural advertiser when I like something, so most of the past few years have seen me spreading word of mouth on Patrick’s work, and converting tons of people into fans. At the very least, at least a hundred people who didn’t know Patrick before are at least accustomed to his work now, either directly through me, or by the people I told. The response has been mostly positive, with a few people just kindly telling me he wasn’t their favourite, but they can appreciate his talent. I’ve seen very few negative responses except online. I wonder if this is partly attributed to the fact that I hang out predominately with very open-minded people who aren’t afraid of something different or a bit eclectic?

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