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The Magic Position by Patrick Wolf

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Reviewed on 28th February 2007.


The Magic Position

By Patrick Wolf

"They send you off to hell in gasoline drawers and say 'Hey, while you're there, could you bring me back a chicken chow mein?'" Not one of mine, sadly, but of the eminently quotable Tom Waits. But who was he talking about? You, as it happens.

For certain musicians, domestic bliss will always be dangerous ground both artistically and commercially speaking. It's bad enough that you expect them to flagellate themselves in a seething frenzy of disenchantment for your vicarious listening pleasure, only to chuck the painfully-wrought results onto your fucking i-pod shuffle or something. What's worse is how you wander off bored when they eventually wash up, exhausted, on the rocky artistic shores of personal contentedness. Remember Pulp's 'We Love Life'? Or Dylan's early '70s output? No wait, scratch that last one.

It's not always like this, mind. Nick Cave has continued selling records even as he's struggled to recapture fiery muse of old on merely lukewarm recent efforts Nocturama and Abbatoir Blues. And old flame PJ Harvey shifted units by the bucketload with her 'mature' effort Stories From The City, Stories From the Sea album way back in 2000.

But what of Patrick Denny Wolf, a precocious, electrofolk singer-songwriter in the conscious vein of Conor Oberst, who has spoken of his new album as "born out of a pure, na´ve kind of love, na´ve in the best sense"? Can he defy expectations and translate this purest of loves into a compelling body of work?

Wolf mounts his defence with an opening volley of melodic masterclasses - 'Overture' sees him adopt a strident '80s croon over a tune that's strongly reminiscent of 'Mad World', and stirring strings that one might easily imagine selling a lot of cars. In a nice way, of course.

It's followed by two more gems in the irresistible Dexys motown stomp of the title track and cocksure, Ed Larrikin-assisted single 'Accident & Emergency'.

Having outlined his manifesto in broad strokes, Patrick adds depth to his vision with 'Bluebells', a stately big ballad that could be an outtake from Arcade Fire's Funeral, and 'Magpie', an eerie, goosebump-inducing pastoral featuring an unsettling vocal courtesy of Marianne Faithful.

Only towards the end does Wolf's positivism begin to grate slightly - 'Get Lost' is a cheesy lyric with a pretty melody half-inched from 'Boys Don't Cry', hamstrung by an uncharacteristically club-footed beat. And 'Enchanted' is borderline smug.

Detractors will argue there's nothing to rival the brutal impact of 'Childcatcher' or 'Tristan' from previous efforts - and certainly there are moments here that feel a deliberate substitution of shiny pop surface in place of depth - but maybe that's the point. And if that sounds like a cop-out, it's worth remembering you can't always have your chicken chow mein and eat it too.



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