Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia
Two years might not seem like a long wait between albums for most fans; for Patrick Wolf fans though, two years might as well have been an eternity. Having savoured the dark delights of The Bachelor in 2009, a follow-up (a second part if you will) was promised mere months later. The Conqueror never transpired and so we find ourselves two years and an engagement later, at Lupercalia and (cliché alert) it’s undoubtedly been worth the wait. Far and away Wolf'’s happiest – and most accessible – album, Lupercalia is an utter joy from the sprightly jazz pop of opener ‘The City’ to irresistibly upbeat closer ‘The Falcons’.
Going through his back catalogue, variation is something you can’t accuse Patrick Wolf of being afraid of and Lupercalia is no different. While it’s not the companion album as originally intended, it still has its obvious contrasts; acting as the light yin to The Bachelor’s dark yang, Lupercalia sees Patrick proclaim “I can’t do this alone / But we can do this so much better together” (‘Together’), quite the change from the former’s title track where he defiantly stated “I will never marry, marry at all / No one will wear my silver ring”. Consequently what the album loses in dramatic impact of his previous work (there’s no ‘Hard Times’ or ‘Tristan’ to be found), it more than makes up for in unabashed romance and uplifting melodies.
But that doesn’t mean any of the invention of previous releases that makes him one of the UK’s most exciting and original artists is lost. ‘Slow Motion’ is overblown pomp at its finest with its smart changes of tempo, odd computer game synths and caterwauls melding into a stunning whole; similarly ‘The Future’ may start off as a low-key acoustic ditty but builds into a vast, triumphant finale of vocal harmonies, brass and drums. These are just two of the numerous delights that await and that’s not even counting the superb singles ‘Time Of My Life’, a defiant break-up track with a gorgeous string section, and ‘The City’, which should be applauded for its saxophone solo alone.
However, Wolf has always been a very personal artist, especially where his lyrics are concerned, and how much of a fan you are will impact on how deeply you involve with Lupercalia. Fans who’ve been with him through the highs and lows will fall in love with ‘The Falcons’ as Patrick proclaims that things are “Looking up, up, up for me / Looking up, up, up for us / Finally”, but a casual listener might be more churlish. It’s a common thread throughout and is worth noting if you’re more used to generalised tales of love and loss on other albums: “Oh I love this house…gives me the greatest peace I’ve ever known” (‘House’); “I tell myself to / Hold on, won’t be long / Till I grow through this struggle” (‘Time Of My Life’).
Still, if you don’t feel you can connect with the lyrics, you should just sit back and let the sumptuous compositions wash over you instead. It may disappoint fans that it isn’t another Lycanthropy or Wind In The Wires, but that’s part of its charm as it showcases a side of Patrick Wolf only briefly glimpsed before such as on the likes of ‘The Magic Position’. Lupercalia manages to be both romantic and uplifting without straying into cheese, thanks mainly to its deeply personal lyrics, and as a result, might just end up being the feel good album of the year.