Take a fey, slightly mad looking young English man boy, feed him liquidised Bowie and T-Rex throughout his formative years, let him loose in an Oxfam shop containing only the salvaged belongings of an insane autistic aristocrat and Patrick Wolf is something similar to what might just come out the other end.
There’s something quintessentially English about Patrick Wolf (or perhaps I just think there is because the first time I saw him live was on a bill put together by the British Council to promote the UK music scene to an audience of slightly bemused looking foreign students).
He’s the kind of performer you can’t quite imagine any other country producing except as a novelty act for the Eurovision Song Contest in the year that LSD becomes legal. Dressed in a sky blue sequined polo shirt, matching shorts, claret football socks and silver platform shoes (and riding a children’s merry-go-round on the album cover) he sounds every bit as mad and as great as you’d expect him to.
Despite the fragility of his appearance and the foppishness of his dress, his voice is a booming baritone in the mould of Scott Walker and Marc Almond, both of whom you can imagine might have secretly genetically engineered him and raised him in alternative family circumstances to save us all from Snow Patrol and James Blunt.
Violins, lunatic keyboards, kettle drums and probably actual kettles combine to make a wonderfully idiosyncratic and bonkersly brilliant album. Previous single Accident & Emergency is a perfect example and a perfect sampler of his work.
None of this is particularly news of course, as he’s continuing along the same road he began to travel with debut album Lycanthropy and 2005’s Wind In The Wires, but there’s always room for more.
If you need any convincing, just look at the quality of friends he’s invited to the party, from Marianne Faithfull, who provides guest vocals on Magpie to Ed Larrikin (who must still be standing back wide-eyed at the realisation there’s another ginger lunatic in the world who wants to dress like the Famous Five on acid).
Add in Austrian string quartets, ukuleles, clavichords, theremins, autoharps, vibraphones and glockenspiel and you should be starting to get the picture.
And then there’s the lyrics. Beautiful, dark, sultry poetry to complement the beautiful, dark and sultry music: “I am lost along the hinterland/Caught among the bracken and the ferns/And the boys who have no name” on Magpie for example. Wolf’s England is one of rain on the canal, of razor wire and dockweeds (X) but it’s also one of hope, where love will redeem you and getting lost in secret gardens is the key to the universe.
It’s easy to compare Wolf with great pop eccentrics of the past, from Bowie to Bolan to Bush without acknowledging that he owes just as much to the folktronica scene, and falls just as shabby-chicly in line with newcomers such as Larrikin Love and Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly! , for whom it could be argued he opened the door, as he does with the sequin-garbed geniuses of past generations.
There’s something from every great period if you listen closely enough, from the trance drums and electronica of Get Lost to the post-rock crooning that everyone from Jarvis Cocker to Brett Anderson has made acceptable over the last 15 years. There are violins you could trace back to John Cale and personal touches he has added himself to bring this record into the 20th century.
Combined together they make The Magic Position one of those rare but oh-so-welcome gems: a true work of genius by a true eccentric. Third time still lucky then, it seems.