While received wisdom and common sense strongly advise us not to judge a book by its cover, we all know the trick can actually work on occasion. Sometimes a cover is so inescapably, so obviously poor that you don’t wish to dig any deeper. And the awfully bland, cheap picture of Patrick Wolf on the cover of his newest album, Lupercalia, should come as a warning convincing enough.
Lupercalia is Wolf’s most straightforward, downright positive record to date. Lyrically, he is at his happiest since 2007’s The Magic Position, and wants the whole world to know it (just check out the short snippet called ‘William’, an obvious declaration of love for his lover). But by eschewing all the darkness and despair of the recession-fuelled The Bachelor Patrick Wolf stripped his music of his irresistible whimsy and artistic edge. The complex, overblown arrangements are as meticulous and layered as ever, only this time there’s too much emptiness to it. Sweeping, operatic tracks like ‘Slow Motion’ or ‘Together’ are more suited for a Eurovision song contest than a great Patrick Wolf album. And however catchy and charming ‘House’ might seem, it sounds too much like ABBA, with only the mentioning of Dylan Thomas giving it a slight edge.
But Patrick Wolf’s blandness is still colourful enough, and his great sense of melody and inventive vocal and instrumental hooks shine on the album’s opener, ‘The City’, an instant pop classic, as well as on emotional, romantic songs like ‘The Future’ or ‘Time Of My Life’. And while the ballads on Lupercalia are his most bloodless and uneventful ever, he does manage to stay the right side of sappy and sentimental on the dramatic pocket symphony ‘Armistice’.
Lupercalia might bring to mind the pop and confused ambition of The Red Shoes by another British perfectionist, Kate Bush. Only Patrick Wolf lacks the great lady’s vision and taste. He should get his whimsy back, for that’s where his charisma lies – now hidden behind the thick coating of overblown orchestration and gargantuan violins. Otherwise he could end up all form and no substance next time he records an album. Also, a better cover might help.
Released on 20th June 2011 by Mercury Records