The Magic Position
he essence of Patrick Wolf is captured for a fleeting moment during “Accident & Emergency.” Amidst the lolloping electronic beats, dancefloor anthemics, stereoscoping brass, and dramatis-personae vocals, there’s a moment of vulnerability as he tones down the delivery from preening disco-queen to lost child for the words “what happens when you lose everything?” It’s subsumed within the space of a breath though, and he returns to cocksure strength with the words “you just carry on and with a grin, sing!”—but there was just enough to catch a glimpse. Beneath the drama and colour, real human emotion; each heightens the other.
After “Overture” settles into the thump of the title track, Patrick announces that he's found the major key. It’s a literal change as much as it is metaphorical: after five years of writing almost exclusively in the minor key, after two albums of music by turns dissonant, austere, beautiful, and strange, his songs have opened up to reveal blue skies, love affairs, a place to call home, and near-endless possibilities.
It would be easy to explain The Magic Position as Patrick going pop, but things in his lycanthrope world are never quite that simple. Far from being a compromised plea for popular success, Wolf’s third album is no less driven by his enormous personality and musicality than either his 2003 debut, Lycanthropy, or 2005’s Wind in the Wires; it’s just that his personality is brighter, happier, and more communicative now.
Not that his third album makes a leap away from previous work. “The Libertine” and “Tristan,” from Wind in the Wires, hinted at an awesome potential in Patrick’s range and measure for full-on pop, a potential realized as fully as you could hope at least three times on The Magic Position: in the joyous handclaps of the title track; in last year’s slept-on electropop single “Accident & Emergency”; and in the romping escape-fantasy “(Let’s Go) Get Lost,” which climaxes with romantic defiance atop a mess of horns.
Book-ended by the pop pillars of “Accident & Emergency” and “(Let’s Go) Get Lost,” though, is a midsection of songs as beautiful and idiosyncratic as any in his catalogue; starting with the brief, prescient snippet of “The Bluebell” and finishing with the scant, ebbing violin noise of “Secret Garden.” Within this heart of the album, “The Bluebell” takes the idea from its brief sister-song and extends, realizes, and breathes depth and solidity into it. Marianne Faithful attempts to out-emote Patrick on “Magpie,” drama threatening to be cliché were the melody not so strong and arrangement not so oddly minimal and mechanically disconsolate. “…Get Lost” then moves into the brief, piano-led romantic sojourn of “Enchanted,” like a remembrance of Lambchop’s Is a Woman sans melancholy, before “The Stars” relishes in the beauty of the night sky and familial warmth, ushering us gently to close.
The Magic Position is a wild and beautiful ride. There are fireworks, electronics, trumpets, dissonant squalls, ukuleles, femme fatales, pianos, orchestras, beats, and escaping lovers. Above all there is Patrick Wolf: 6'4", shocking red hair, twenty-three years young, beautiful, unique, and a genius.