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.