Patrick Wolf: Wind in the Wires

[24 March 2005]

By Zeth Lundy

Blustery

Wind is ubiquitous in the language of poetry, sprouting up as motif and metaphor, signaling change and movement with a lick of its incantatory breeze. In Dickinson, it shivers in sound waves (“There came a wind like a bugle / It quivered through the grass”); in Wordsworth, it moves in turbulent squalls (“Impatient as the wind”). Blake spoke of its inflexibility (“You throw sand against the wind / And the wind blows it back again”), while Eliot likened it “More distant and more solemn / Than a fading star”. And of course Dylan, the poet of post-modernism, delivered the catch-all declaration, both infuriating and definitive, that answers are carried off in the wind.

Patrick Wolf’s sophomore solo release Wind in the Wires connects with the preface above for two reasons: 1) it aspires to poetic heights, in all its classically affected arrangements, bucolic lyricism, and dramatic delivery; and 2) it is more tellingly titled than one might initially think. A vividly visual work, Wind in the Wires is filled with rural landscapes that seem to pulsate with life. Indeed, the music itself moves like the ferried marching of the clouds in the sky: graciously, patiently, ushered by the wind and energized with magnetic shocks of electricity.

Wind in the Wires is a treatise on movement, evolution, and maturity as constants, elements imperative to creating a unique identity—simplistically put, it’s a British, 21st century version of “Thunder Road”. The album opens with “The Libertine”, which essentially encapsulates the record’s theme entire: like Berlin cabaret pop in an existentialist dance club, or an electro-operatic Leonard Cohen song, “The Libertine” details paradigms turned from destiny. “The motorway won’t take a horse / The wanderer found a course to follow,” Wolf croons over the hissing beat and haunting string spirals, and proceeds to announce his dissent from type: “I’m going to run the risk of being free”. Wolf vows to “bridle the autumn gales” on the wings of ascending birds in the sultry “Teignmouth”, its chorus boasting gangbuster bravado—the song achieves that giant inspirational magnetism of universality while maintaining an outsider’s fringe. The handclaps-and-birds beat of “Ghost Song” buoys a spiritual quest to “gather the wind” and “bring beauty back in season”. “The Gypsy King” does exactly that, contemplating the choices of a wanderer: “What road to be choosing? / Do I follow the star or the gypsy king?” With nylon-stringed guitar and pleading strings, Wolf dances to the sound of open-ended indecision.

Wolf, whose classical music training began at a young age, fearlessly marries organic and electronic instrumentation throughout the album. He handles the majority of the instruments himself (save one clarinet track and some backing vocals), weaving a spacious mix of strings, guitars, piano, dulcimer, ukulele, and electronic accordion over clattered chunks of Notwist-ian electronica. Perhaps the most surprising aspect isn’t Wolf’s age—at merely 21, he’s crafted a record that, while admittedly pretentious, is stunningly mature—but his voice: though he looks so innocently pale and precious on the record’s blasé cover, his voice is syrupy low, sullenly heaving equal parts Buckley and Bowie.

Wind in the Wires finds Wolf still learning how to harness his undeniable talent. While all this soaring, wind-catching, and destiny molding makes for some seriously inspired (and near-unclassifiable) music, it still means he’s capable of losing the thread. The creative unraveling happens mainly in the record’s final quarter: “Tristan”, the record’s heaviest song, escalates Wolf’s theatricality to parody; and the closing track “Lands End” destroys Wind in the Wire‘s fourth wall, jauntily musing on success in the music business. Still, such a gripe is, relatively speaking, a minor one; Wolf is massively talented, especially when considering his age, and at this point in his career is way ahead of the game. As I fleetingly mentioned before, Wind in the Wires is a pretentious statement (unabashedly so), but Wolf’s got the raw goods to back it up—consider it an enviable pretension, not one of annoyance. And after all, if Wolf lives, poetically, by the wind, he’ll behave as the wind behaves: impatient, turbulent, inflexible.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/wolfpatrick-wind/