Release Date: Sep 25, 2012
Record label: Junketboy-Consignment
Initially, Patrick Wolf’s latest release, Sundark and Riverlight, is a bit of an acquired taste. Truthfully, his heavily-accented, operatic voice and sparse chamber pop production takes a little while to get used to. However, once listeners are prepared to enter his world, they’ll discover a unique artist who can express intense sentiments and universal regret with exceptional fragility and pristine arrangements.
Has it really been a decade of Patrick Wolf? Five albums in and the perpetually fresh-faced pop outsider still feels like the new kid; a wonderful, bonkers, sad/happy secret known to waifs and strays the world over but a mystery to your average Primark punter; skirting the mainstream despite grandiose gems like ‘The Magic Position’ and ‘Hard Times’, part of a great tradition of cult acts with devoted fanbases and a beautiful need to dress like a bellend. Like the Manics, Suede, Amanda Palmer and Tori Amos before him Wolf inspires complete devotion from the flotsam and jetsam of the popscene, his front rows jammed with sad-eyed dreamers with tears in their eyes and glitter on their cheeks. Never one to seek the obvious route, he’s celebrating ten years in the biz with Sundark and Riverlight, foregoing the usual 'Best Of' format in favour of re-recording old songs, ditching the electronics, the drums and the loud guitars for delicately picked ukulele, dulcimer, piano, harp, violin (all played by Wolf) and the bare-bones of an orchestra.
Review Summary: Patrick Wolf the artist, first and foremost, laid bare for all to hear.I thought It was time after a decade to take a moment to document what these songs have grown up to be while I’ve been travelling them around the world. There was a conscious rebellion on this album against the digital age of auto-tune and mass produced electronic landfill music. I want to present at my 10 year anniversary a musical biography.In many ways, it’s difficult to imagine Patrick Wolf stripping anything down, in any sense.
Nobody does maximalism like Patrick Wolf. Calling his music theatrical is accurate but only just; if the stage is the metaphor, Wolf's albums call for massive prosceniums, with hundred-strong casts, meticulous set pieces, and props flung in from the wings. The aesthetics may vary, from Lycanthropy's assemble-at-home crafting to The Bachelor's repurposed metalwork to Lupercalia's lavish polish, but the scope is always titanic.
Wolf’s sixth album. What it actually is, though, is an attempt at some kind of greatest hits collection featuring two discs of orchestral ‘refixes’ of songs from his five records. All it really does is make you long for the originals. But there are a couple of exceptions: ‘Hard Times’ has never sounded as warmly satisfying as with a string quartet, and ‘Teignmouth’ and ‘Together’ flourish in their rearrangements.
Sundark and Riverlight is a commemorative double album released to mark Patrick Wolf's 10-year musical anniversary. It's a collection of reworked versions of his much-adored songs, and his first entirely acoustic effort. All of which rings the alarm – Wolf is known for his bombast, his dramatic flourishes, and many of these are machine-made. Stripping them back and having another go risks taking off too many layers, including the magic.
In a letter posted on his website, singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf explained his rationale for releasing Sundark and Riverlight, on which he's recorded new, acoustic-based versions of songs spanning his decade-long career. Wolf claims that the project was a way “to document what these songs have grown up to be while I've been traveling them around the world. ” Certainly, Wolf's five studio albums have provided him with no shortage of exemplary material to choose from, but it's that “grown up” signifier that points to the reasons why the album neither works on its own merits nor captures what's made Wolf one of today's most compelling musical talents.
Generally, as musicians’ careers get into the 10-plus year range, the contemplative, retrospective instinct tends to emerge. Whether that emerges in the form of exalting the past in greatest hits collections or denying it by evolving in a completely new direction, it’s hard not to look at late-career releases as a linear reaction away from the past. There’s also a select group who literally re-inspect their own tunes, creating direct sequels or re-imagining their own tracks from the bottom up.
You’ve got to have some ego to release a two-disc album consisting of re-recordings of old songs. You have to be fairly self-assured to skip merrily between genres as diverse as baroque and electronica, make a pass at Marianne Faithfull, and record pomposity-heavy pop of the sort rarely seen since the heady days of Kate Bush. Luckily, Patrick Wolf has all this arrogance in spades.The Kate Bush comparison is especially cogent, what with last year’s release of ‘Director’s Cut’, an album made up of remixed and restructured songs from earlier albums ‘The Sensual World’ and ‘The Red Shoes’.
Marking a decade of releases, this set shows that Wolf is a songwriter to be admired. Tom Hocknell 2012 Patrick Wolf fans are familiar with his constant re-invention, so this revisiting of songs from previous long-players will come as no surprise. However, as Wolf is equally known for theatrics, followers may be surprised at the acoustic nature of these re-recorded songs, released to commemorate a decade in the business.