Self-restraint is not Patrick Wolf’s strongpoint. Since first coming to prominence as a precocious urchin celebrating folk music and technology on the remarkable debut Lycanthropy, he has grown into a hyperreal caricature of disaffected youth. Over the past six years he has gone through more record contracts and management deals than he has hair colours, sacrificing shots at commercial success to retain creative freedom.
When he announced his latest release, The Bachelor, it was to be part of a brace of albums. But now his fourth long player appears alone, its partner destined for release next year. Having left his deal with Universal, The Bachelor is put out with help from Bandstocks, with fans buying shares to fund its release. This willingness to fly by the seat of his pants – or inconsistency, as you might call it – is matched only by Wolf’s adherence to a formula for his releases.
The collection of folk infused techno and techno infused folk opens with the discordant instrumental track that is almost a signature of Wolf’s releases. This track signals that Wolf has continued his trend towards the heavy-handed production that marred previous long-player The Magic Position. Hard Times is classic Wolf; dark and violent, brash and bratty with allusion to digging ditches and other rural pursuits incongruous with such industrial instrumentation.
Oblivion and The Vulture are similarly dark and violent. But while they have the potential to be shocking, the tendency to throw everything including the kitchen sink at the tracks detracts. A situation not helped by Wolf’s increasingly theatrical singing style. His vocals have always been flamboyant, but here he is downright hammy.
Having previously eschewed interference with his work, it is something of a surprise to find a number of collaborators on the album, and it might have been hoped that they would rein in his excesses; however, when those collaborators include Alec Empire and Tilda Swinton it is perhaps not surprising that they don’t. Swinton’s spoken words on a few of the tracks brings an air of Kate Bush to the albums, and the fusion of heavy production and folk, anger, and creative excess is reminiscent of Hounds Of Love.
The title track is far and away the highlight, the effects and synthesizers giving way to a screeching violin and Eliza Carthy‘s vocal. Next to Carthy’s primal roar, Wolf’s theatrics fade into the background. But this is one rare moment of forced understatement from Wolf. Otherwise, The Bachelor sounds like another attempt by Wolf to perfect something that he got pretty much right on his first album.