Best Of / Feature

Better The Wolf You Know: A Patrick Wolf Top 10

Like both Girls Aloud and Britney Spears before him we have decided that Patrick Wolf has more than earned the merit of having a popfools top 10 countdown recalling our favourites by him. Unlike both the aforementioned artists, however, we are taking off the ‘must have been released as a single’ proviso, both because it doesn’t make sense to discuss commercialism when it comes to Mr Wolf, and because we never followed his career closely during the period such singles would have been released in. As normal, this is just our opinion and it does tend to change if not day-to-day then certainly week-to-week. So hold onto your wolf and prepare for a bumpy ride through the forest that is Patrick’s musical canon, because this is about to get interesting…

10. Oblivion 
(2009, The Bachelor)

It is perhaps hard to completely appreciate the ‘The Bachelor’ songs taken away from their original concept. During the course of the album, Tilda Swinton makes several appearances as ‘The Voice of Hope’, an omnipotent being who encourages Patrick along his dark and treacherous path to his ultimate destiny – the battle. We must confess the Swinton featuring songs are probably our favourite from the album, because the very appearance of Swinton immediately adds an extra dimension to them. Sometimes Swinton’s ‘encouragement’ comes through rather stern words. For example, during the middle of ‘Oblivion’ she rather crossly pipes up with ‘Wait a second, have you come so far, for it to end like this? … Get back up. What are you so afraid of?’ The song is about staring depression right in the face and facing up to your fears. ‘Father, where’s my gun?’ sings Patrick at both the start and the end of the song. At the start he sounds almost suicidal; at the end we feel he truly is ready to go into battle. The way Patrick so effortlessly creates a fantasy blockbuster-esque war-torn landscape merely through the sounds used in ‘Oblivion’ speaks all the more for his unique talents.

09. Hard Times
(2009, The Bachelor)

Hailing from the same album comes its opening track, ‘Hard Times’. Making an obvious reference to Dickens’ novel, the song sets up the concept of the album, with a declaration that ‘this battle will be won!’ Coming after stirring calls for both resolution and revolution, Patrick paints himself at once as both peacemaker/troublemaker and problem/solution. This dichotomy immediately grabs the listener’s attention, with us wanting to know more about who the battle is against. The lyrics seem to point at both ‘the higher powers’ whilst also bemoaning the ignorance of the masses (‘ignorance is still adored’ / ‘mediocrity applauded’). Meanwhile, the main hook in the chorus is the haunting ‘In these hard times / We’ll work harder, harder’, bringing to mind a generation of minimum wage slaves working ever harder for ever diminishing returns in the recession. Basically, although it is a more pleasant experience to try and transpose the song to a medieval/epic setting, something which the album’s visual seems to support, at the same time it would be both naive and ignorant to ignore the more modern application of the song.

08. The Libertine
(2005, Wind In The Wires)

Next comes the opening number of Patrick’s 2005 album. ‘Wind In The Wires‘ tells the story of Patrick’s escape to the Cornwall coast, and thus one imagines the wailing declaration of ‘I’ve got to go’ on this track being a literal description of his state of mind in fleeing London. As ever with Patrick, we appreciate the effort made in storytelling through the medium of song, and here Patrick lists examples of people who have tried (and failed) to escape – for example the circus girl who fell off her horse and is now paralysed; meanwhile the hitchiker was bound, gagged and raped on the roadside. In typical Patrick style he has beautifully managed to describe the dual tensions of wanting to leave but being afraid of leaving. Patrick again vents his abhoration of popular culture in this song, similarly to in ‘Oblivion’, when he sings ‘And in this drought of truth and invention / Whoever shouts the loudest gets the most attention / So we pass the mic and they’ve got nothing to say’. Luckily for us, Patrick has both plenty to say, and intriguing ways of saying it. Our favourite moment of the song probably comes when Patrick almost gleefully shouts ‘I’m gonna run the risk of being freeeee’.

07. Teignmouth
(2005, Wind In The Wires)

Although we haven’t intentionally ranked the songs in this way it does seem a coincidence that the track that immediately follows ‘The Libertine’ on the album should also follow it in our countdown. This song had us hooked the first time we heard it; the glorious chorus of ‘So when the birds fly South / I’ll reach up and hold their tails’ is unforgettable and manages to paint such a picture of beauty in our heads. ‘Teignmouth’ is about as simple as a Patrick Wolf song gets; it literally tells us of his journey from London to Cornwall. We adore the self-awareness that Patrick holds when he admits that he has ‘A constant yearning / for great love’. Isn’t great love something we all yearn, yet most of us are too afraid to admit to? The breakdown at 3:07 to 3:23 is simply stunning in its elegance.

06. The Stars/Finale
(2007, The Magic Position)

The first track to make the countdown from our favourite Patrick Wolf album, ‘The Stars’ has a charming lullaby-esque feel to it. As the stars chime it’s impossible not to feel your heart warm up, by the time the piano tinkles out we are won over. We’ve tacked ‘Finale’ from the same album on the end because, having reordered this particular album on iTunes, and letting ‘The Stars’ run into ‘Finale’, they become perfect companion pieces. In fact they sound so perfect together that they sound like one song rather than two. This sounds obvious and cheesy, given the title of the song, but we actually can’t think of a better song to go star-gazing to.

05. Tristan
(2005, Wind In The Wires)

‘Tristan’ sees Wolf continue with the heavier electronic sound he first introduced to us with debut album ‘Lycanthropy’, and quite simply we are a fan of the sound. Other than that, we really think the lines ‘I am trouble / And I am troubled too’ and ‘I am f**ked / And I am f**king too’, are really quite clever. It’s hard to pin down exactly what Tristan is about because of Wolf’s refusal to stick to one narrative, purposely and repeatedly contradicting himself, which for us adds another layer of intrigue to the song.

04. Accident & Emergency (featuring Edward Larrikin)
(2007, The Magic Position)

‘Accident & Emergency’ simply speaks to us in volumes. It’s a singalong, up-tempo number which aims to uplift its listener. The intro is spell-binding, with a guttural ‘EMERGENCYYYYY’ thrown in for good measure. The lyrics are simply incredible: ‘So what happens when you lose everything? / You just carry on and with a grin / Sing for all that your life has to bring / And just get yourself back into the ring’ although one can’t imagine Wolf taking his own advice. It contains perhaps the finest middle 8 written in pop history; ‘Cos if you never lose / How you gonna know when you’ve won? / And if it’s never dark / Well how you gonna know the sun / When it shines?’ Accompanied by gorgeous trumpets and synths, and topped off with a delightful sounding ‘woohooo’, we are in Popfools heaven whilst listening to this song.

03. Don’t Say No
(2003, Lycanthropy)

Our first introduction to Lycanthropy, it remains one of our favourites. ‘Don’t Say No’ forms merely one part of a complex story which Wolf both wants to tell us about and is purposefully opaque about. One thing is for sure; the song is emotionally charged. ‘If you’re brave enough you’ll just let it happen / If you’re brave enough you’ll just succumb / … if you’re brave enough you’ll give yourself away’ seems to outline a situation of being coerced and led into something, and the main refrain of ‘Don’t say no to it’ is menacingly spoken. The song as a whole might be about war, fighter planes, stars, or even God and religion. It’s impossible to know for sure.

02. (Let’s Go) Get Lost
(2007, The Magic Position)

Although we absolutely adore ‘Get Lost’ it misses out on the number one spot. Perhaps uncharacteristically Wolf, certainly pre-Lupercalia, this song simply and effectively discusses being in love with someone. A fun fact for you – this song contains sounds of the arcades on Brighton pier! We love the way ‘discretely’ is drawn out to sound like ‘discreeeeeeetely’. We love the brass. We love the off-beat nature of the drum and the way the song is hard to sing along to until you know it fully because the song doesn’t follow a simple pattern. We love ‘the drinks are flat and the price is a crime’. Wait. We love the whole song. We’re gushing now so we’ll stop.

01. The Childcatcher
(2003, Lycanthropy)

It feels somehow wrong to award this song the number one spot given the tricky subject it discusses and the sounds it uses to accompany its story. A song of two halves, the song discusses what an early Wolf clearly sees as sexual abuse. Then the childcatcher actually speaks to us, in a creepy, chilling coo to try and justify his actions. Wolf describes it best here. Basically, this song proves what a genius Wolf is and always has been. You simply must listen to this song, but it is rather disturbing so be prepared.

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