First impressions: Patrick Wolf – Sundark and Riverlight

patrick wolf sundark and riverlight press image

I’m so late to the Patrick Wolf party that there’s already someone locked in the bathroom, refusing to come out, and half the guests are passed out in the kitchen. There’s always the bore in the corner talking about right-wing politics, so I’ll just barge past him, grab a handful of peanuts and make myself at home. It’s not that I’d never heard of Patrick Wolf, but that by the time I actually got around to hearing the music, it was in his – to me – less engaging phase (Lupercalia), so I sort of shrugged and forgot about him. It was only recently that I was nagged into checking out Lycanthropy and ended up fizzing around the room like a balloon with a hole in it. I was excited.

Which means my anticipation for Sundark and Riverlight was a little mixed. Celebrating his first ten years as a recording artist, it contains 16 acoustic re-recordings spanning all five albums.

(My friend says that he traded some of his passion for technical proficiency. She reckons he’s only truly brilliant when he’s miserable: I’m pretty sure she’s doing awful things with a voodoo doll right now.)

Regardless, Libertine sounds fine enough to my ears, whatever form it’s sung in. There’s passion enough here for me. It reminds me a little of Marc Almond’s finer moments, with the spiky edge of Kristin Hersh’s Strings EP. Here’s the original:

Sundark‘s version trades the thumping four-to-the-floor for a staccato rat-a-tat and ramps up the violin. The backing vocals are gone and Patrick’s voice is stronger and more insistent.

I think you have to be a fan already to really get the best from this, since it is inherently self indulgent, and there’s only so many voice-and-piano ballads to hear before they all sort of blend into one. That said, I can’t imagine anyone not liking the upbeat Hard Times or evocative Bermondsey. Even though I vastly prefer the original Overture, this version is still pleasant enough.

I’m not glib enough to suggest that Sundark and Riverlight won’t win over any new fans, because it very well might, but it’s just not really aimed at me. I think it’s well made, but I won’t reach for it first the next time I want to treat my ears. My friend, by contrast, will undoubtedly name this the album of the year – just as soon as I can convince her to put the pins down.

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