Showing 11 posts tagged Lupercalia

Together [Lupercalia/Brumalia] [Dir. Mattias Johannson]

“Alone again in Paris,” Patrick sighs. Alone - his natural state, since the first time he fled there. But first, a delicately plucked arpeggio, a snare roll, a trilled noise of static, a sense of foreboding. “You’ve been on my mind.” Moroder synths and a morose baritone.  ”A rooftop in Berlin,” outside the studio, in the middle of recording. Can you believe that this was produced by Alec Empire? “These cities, this view / I see nothing without you.” Not ‘without you I am blind,’ but ‘imagining you here with me.’

The magic of ‘Together’ (lyrics) is that, despite the title, despite the despondency, despite the disco strings***, Patrick doesn’t give up his hard-won independence. “I can do this alone,” he insists, “but we can do this so much better, together.” How easy it would have been to insist ‘I can’t.’ Codependent? Not after the lessons of The Bachelor. But interdependent? Certainly.  ”Stronger we stand, together.” True love knows no sacrifice, because when you’re doing it properly it’s compromise. The way he lets his voice soar - finally - on the chorus, the swirl of the violins, the perfect marriage of sad verses and euphoric chorus. ‘William’ might be the heart of Lupercalia, but ‘Together’ is its climax.

'Together' is so great that Patrick recorded an entire new EP around it, is what I'm saying.

*** I lied before, about ‘The Libertine’. Those aren’t disco strings. These are disco strings.

[Lupercalia-era artwork. Brumalia photography by Patti Smith.]

People don’t normally approach me for collaborations but there have been a few really great ones. Marianne Faithful, Tilda Swinton, Patti and Nan Golding were my four most memorable. It’s nice to be asked. It can be quite lonely being a solo musician and going out there and being a bit of an island, so when someone like Patti comes along and believes in your work and believes in you like that, it means a lot.

- Patrick Wolf, “Time for Mr. Wolf,” DIY, April 8, 2011 (source)

The Falcons [Lupercalia] [Dir. Noriko Okaku]

From ‘A Boy Like Me’ to ‘Land’s End’ to ‘The Stars’ to ‘The Messenger’, Patrick’s always been particularly good at writing closing tracks that embrace the spirit of the album that they cap off, while still looking forward to what comes next. ‘The Falcons’ (lyrics) is no exception.

Soaring violin lines supported by a pizzicato violin line and finger snaps/clicks, the song is in a state of perpetual ascent. Birds have always figured into Patrick’s imagery - seagulls in ‘Pumpkin Soup’, the loneliness of ‘Pigeon Song’, the southbound birds of ‘Teignmouth’, the bad luck of ‘Magpie’ and the menace of ‘Vulture’.

If anything, ‘The Falcons’ fulfills the promise of ‘Teignmouth’. Back then Patrick hoped, “when the birds fly south / we’ll reach up and hold their tails / pull up and out of here.” No longer weighed down by history, trauma, fear, guilt or self-loathing, Lupercalia leaves us on a positive note - but one that acknowledges what came before.

Looking up, up, up for you
Looking up, up, up for me
Looking up, up, up for us
The video is stunning - falcons in negative flying over a black background, disembodied eyes, hands, faces, bursts of colour and shape.

Divine Intervention


Patrick Wolf



Divine Intervention [House]

Whither The Conqueror?

Lupercalia finds Patrick already conquered, happily domestic, Battle gladly lost. Having decided that much of the material he had written for The Conqueror was too similar in tone to The Bachelor, these songs were set aside, in addition to the Lupercalia tracks worked on with outside dance producers. 

Turning 27 and growing up, I felt like I was still stuck as a teenager, in a way. I wanted to make sure that I was growing so it was time to really get rid of a lot of the work I was writing.

Some of the best songs from that album I’ve used as vinyl B-sides so people can still hear the best work. It was just time to start a clean slate.

- Patrick Wolf, “Time for Mr. Wolf,” DIY, April 8, 2011 (source)

l suspect that neither Patrick’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ nor the gorgeous quasi-Gregorian ‘Sing' (lyrics) were intended for The Conqueror, but ‘Mercia' (lyrics) and ‘Divine Intervention’ (lyrics) clearly were.

'Divine Intervention' starts with a rich cello line and a chorus promising “You'll be filled with the good things again / You'll be fulfilled / You'll be filled full.” It chronicles what we've already heard about in 'Slow Motion', but more in the style of The Bachelor, filled with touches of flute and delicate orchestration, and similarly poetic language. It makes Patrick’s rescue from drink and depression feel more triumphant than romantic.

Similarly, ‘Mercia’ is a detailed story of two days exploring urban landscapes together - haunted houses and abandoned amusement parks - with imagery of golden apples, the cliffs and wild weather, recalling Wind in the Wires.

Neither one would have fit with the tone of Lupercalia as completed, especially given how much they seem grounded in specific personal experiences (note how general most of Lupercalia stays in terms of relaying details of events in Patrick’s life, even compared to The Magic Position, his last ‘love’ album) but perhaps they would have worked as part of a true counterpart to The Bachelor.


Bermondsey Street


Patrick Wolf



vi. standing brave on the balls of his feet

Lupercalia (Mercury Records, 2011)

Lupercalia is interesting. It’s a set of songs more direct than Patrick’s ever written before, and it’s about being madly, passionately, contentedly, domestically in love with another man. But (at least to my ears) despite their factual inspiration, the songs on Lupercalia go out of their way to not be ‘gay’, in the sense that they were written to be universal love songs that are about a man but needn’t be. The most activist-y the album gets is on the one song that isn’t a me/you/we/our love song, but rather a third person narrative. That’s not a critique, necessarily, but I do think it was a specific goal of Patrick’s, who has always made no secret of the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen specifically as a ‘gay artist’ even as he’s grown more comfortable speaking out as a gay man.

I put myself out there with no irony or cynicism, so when people are horrible, it’s easy to take it personally. But, you know, the sun still comes out in the morning. I can’t worry too much if what I’m making is too gay or too straight or too this or too that. I like to throw myself into places I’m not entirely comfortable in. It’s all experience, isn’t it?”

- Patrick Wolf, The Guardian

Nothing on Lupercalia codes queer to me in the same way that the camp of ‘The Magic Position’ did; or the way that sexuality did in ‘Vulture’ or ‘Adder’ or ‘Tristan’; or the way Patrick wraps his lips around “all out for blood and sweat and meat" in ‘Accident & Emergency’; or the genderfuckery of ‘Lycanthropy’; or the declarations of perpetual singledom in ‘The Bachelor’ and especially ‘Who Will?’, which (even though ‘Who Will?’ is about his spinster aunt the nun who died of ovarian cancer) are both about being excluded from the ideals of romance and normative relationships that Lupercalia embraces. The closest we get is in ‘House’ when he acknowledges “Dylan Thomas in your face” and the title of ‘William’. That bothered me at first, a little bit.

But over at The Singles JukeboxZach commented that he “could not stop hearing [House] as a queer narrative, and it keeps making me think about the idea that simply existing in peace can be a radical action.” and maybe that’s the takeaway here. A universal love song written by an out gay man engaged to another dude can just exist. The fact of existing as a pop singer writing love songs about a man is totally progressive enough. You don’t need to do anything else but *be*. Anything radical about it happens as a result of the reaction of the outside world, but in your lived experience, when you aren’t being made aware of your difference by the rest of The City, you aren’t compelled to pointedly stress pronouns. [Personal digression] I’m writing this at 9AM on a Saturday, still in bed, while my boyfriend is sleeping and you know what? He’s not gay-sleeping. And in two hours, we aren’t going to have gay-breakfast. It’s just breakfast. [/Personal digression] When you’re finally comfortable in your skin, like Patrick is on Lupercalia, the constant internal reminder that you’re marked as different stops beating in your blood, until other people force you to remember, because you’re too busy being disgustingly happy. (Caveat: it’s easier to do this when you’re a white, cis gay man and not a lesbian, a queer person of colour or trans, regardless of your sexuality.)

Anyway, on with the album.

'Bermondsey Street' (lyrics) is possibly my favourite track on Lupercalia. It’s the only song that isn’t sung by ‘Patrick’ and addressed to a specific person. It’s a third-person narrative about two couples, one straight, one gay, getting engaged on either side of Patrick’s street. The song’s two verses are almost identical lyrically, which is the exactly point.

She kisses him on Bermondsey Street
Rises high on the balls of her feet
Declares this the greatest love
Of the century

He fumbles for a wedding ring
She’s no clone from Vogue magazine
She is complex in all her complexion
Love is here to heal

It’s a simple narrative, but it’s effective in its clarity. The emphasis that his characters aren’t supermodels, but just people going about their daily lives in the city, is a nice touch. The second verse, besides two male pronouns, changes Vogue to vintage gay porn mag Colt, which is a nice touch. More telling - and moving - is the second line, which shifts to “standing brave on the balls of his feet,” - a subtle acknowledgement that when queer love moves back across the threshold of your house out into the streets of the city, kissing him or her on Bermondsey Street isn’t entirely identical. Sometimes, you risk getting bashed, even at a Madonna concert. The chorus of ‘Bermondsey Street’, if you call it that, only appears once, but more than that probably would have been overkill. It’s Patrick, belting out:

Love knows no boundaries
Sees beyond sexuality
Holds the sun in the palm of its hand
And laughs down on the cynical man.

with ‘Love’ held out on one note as long as he possibly can. It’s a reproach to bigots everywhere, but also to the cynicism he embraced only an album ago. Musically, the song’s built around a lovely little harp figure, with touches of brass and piano - big, open sounds. As the song comes to a close, he repeats “Two kisses sweet on Bermondsey Street,” daring you to notice the difference between them. Live in concert, the verses are sung with pronouns picked at random.

After ‘Bermondsey Street’, we’re done with the big pop singles and politics, and move into an album of swooning romanticism. Lupercalia isn’t devoid of all melancholy, but it’s hopeful and comfortable, rather than bombastic. Where The Magic Position was infatuated, Lupercalia makes doing dishes and laundry and being boring and domestic sound like the most passionate and exciting thing possible.

The Future' (lyrics) opens with the sound of an Appalachian dulcimer, which makes me think of Joni and Blue and that’s automatically a good thing. It begins alone in California, dreaming of home and love, miles away. The chorus is literally about crossing the return threshold, carrying him with you. “We are private worlds away from public eyes,” indicates that questions of space and place are still present, but after two minutes of build, the repetition of “carrying you over, carrying me over” burst and blossom into a flourish of brass, and the lovers are carried not just over the threshold but into the future.

Armistice' (lyrics) is exactly that. After four albums of Battle, the weapons have been put away, hostilities have ceased, Patrick’s armour is removed, though foxes in the country sharpen their teeth and children in the city sharpen their knives. It’s apparently based on a Manx Gaelic folk song called ‘Blackbird’ - I haven’t been able to track down the original - but the cries of Chomreedhoo at the song’s end mean ‘coat of black’.

Sequencing is important. If ‘The Childcatcher’ was at the centre of Lycanthropy and ‘Who Will?’ in the middle of The Bachelor, then what does it say that ‘William' (lyrics) lies at the heart of Lupercalia? Not even a minute in length, it’s the most naked I’ve ever heard Patrick (and when I saw him in Toronto, he played the last half of his set wearing nothing but a leather jockstrap and a guitar).

And I showed you my ugly heart
Yet you did not surrender
Love me back to life
Through my self-destruction December
All paranoias to trust, I turned
My body’s functions I remembered
So ‘till the going down of suns
Oh William, will you be my conqueror?

Patrick’s official site shows the lyrics to that last line as “Will you, will you be my conqueror,” but I definitely hear an ‘m’, and even if that is the case, the sonic similarities are intentional. So, even on Lupercalia, The Conqueror remains at the heart of the album.

The ‘Wolf Extended Paris Mix' of 'William' is the opening track on Lemuralia, the odds and ends EP released in tandem with Lupercalia and although it only adds some sonic and instrumental flourishes at the beginning and end of the track, it’s quite pretty, and well worth a listen.

The Days' (lyrics) began life as an instrumental recorded during the Vienna sessions for The Magic Position in 2006. It was originally to appear in the movie No Ghosts, which Patrick was at one time supposed to compose the soundtrack for, but the project never went forward, and the song periodically cropped up in live sets from 2007 onwards, before finding a home on Lupercalia. It’s a slow waltz, reflecting on a relationship broken by distance and the self-destruction detailed on The Bachelor, measuring out the days passed in solitude. Easily the saddest song here, it nonetheless feels of a piece with the rest of the album, if only in the continued devotion it expresses.

Slow Motion' (lyrics) is the bridge between The Bachelor and Lupercalia - the story of the conquering told start-to-finish in five minutes and change. At the outset, Patrick’s kitchen is filled not with toucans and monkeys, but silverfish and fruit flies, treading water, surviving, but not living. Or at least living in slow motion. But then, “strangers meet in slow motion,” like that moment on every bad TV comedy, when the new love interest walks in to the room immediately and impeccably lit, with a wind machine blowing her hair back through the air…  Et ensuiteand “breathless corrosion” becomes “breathless devotion.” The “kiss of life” and “wake me up from that deep sleep” bits are probably the only time on Lupercalia that Patrick returns to the well of folklore, and after a notable absence, their subtle return near the album’s end is more than welcome. If Patrick wants his fairytale ending, he’s more than earned it.

I think that ‘Lycanthropy’ was an album that had London in it. It was a time that I was very stuck in London and wanted to escape the city that I was born in. But this is about, after all the touring and all those hard moments of feeling lonely and away from home, not wanting to run away anymore.

London has returned to this album but in a different way. I’m happy to be here now. I’m happy to be in love and grateful for the things that I’ve achieved.

Patrick Wolf, “Time for Mr. Wolf,” DIY, April 8, 2011 (source)

House [Lupercalia] [Dir. Andy Bruntel]

If ‘The City’ implicitly connected love and houses, then ‘House’ shouted it from the rooftops. Patrick declares, literally:

I’ve been too long a lonely man
Yes, I’ve been too long a rolling stone
So let seasons turn
Grow paradise gardens
End to my migration
The native has returned.

It wouldn’t be a Patrick Wolf love song without some sort of ridiculous literary reference and here we get Thomas Hardy and, later, Dylan Thomas (although that’s more of a reference to William’s resemblance to a young Dylan Thomas than anything else). The point though, is that our hero’s journey is over and he’s crossed the return threshold back to The City that he left for Paris four albums previously. 

"House," from the new record, was originally going to be a duet with Florence Welch, but then it was more like, this is an album that doesn’t need any duets. It needs to be a single voice, and I felt like I hadn’t done that since Wind in the Wires.

- Patrick Wolf, “Patrick Wolf Sings a Happy Tune,” Interview Magazine, 2011 (source)

In the video, Patrick’s house is falling apart once again, but where in ‘Demolition’ they leaked blood, here they’re sprouting forth with greenery and nature. And then Patrick’s hanging out with a toucan and a monkey. (It’s a metaphor.)

Patrick Wolf ironing with a toucan

Patrick Wolf is ironing with a toucan, your argument is invalid.


Silliness aside, ‘House’ is indicative of the shift in Patrick’s writing with Lupercalia. No longer couched in metaphor and myth, the lyrics are direct, open and honest. He ends ‘House’ with the declaration “This is the greatest peace I’ve ever known / Your love makes house a home.” Quite right.

The City [Lupercalia] [Dir. Kinga Burza]

By the time the video for ‘The City’ was released at the end of January 2011, a lot had happened. In late December, Patrick had finally decided that the title of the album would be Lupercalia, naming it after a Roman festival honouring the she-wolf who raised Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. Lupercalia was celebrated from February 13th to 15th in order to purify the city and bring health and fertility. On New Year’s Eve, he was engaged.

If there were any doubts as to exactly what type of album Lupercalia - an album named after a Roman festival of wolves and fertility that prefigured Valentine’s Day - would be, ‘The City’ (lyrics) put them swiftly to rest. It opens with a big thumping drum beat, and Patrick’s vocals screwed all the way down (like he’s got significant amounts of drank in his cup) incorporated into the beat and endlessly repeating, “Won’t let the city.” And then…saxophones!

Saxophones! Saxophones and synths!

Message: Lupercalia is a big pop album about love. Big love. The kind of love that isn’t afraid to be cheesy. The kind where you wake up in bed next to someone and roll over and say, “Top of the morning!” because why the hell not? The kind where you’re prone to say dramatic things like, “I was lost until that night we kissed,” because so far as you’re concerned they’re probably true.

In the past, Patrick’s love songs have often been about escape (i.e. ‘Get Lost’) or grounded in a retreat to the pastoral, (Cf. ‘The Railway House’). Here, the hostility of The City to contentment and love remains, but Patrick’s not running anymore. He’s taking a stand.

In the chorus, he insists that he “won’t let no mistake take the roof from off our heads.” It’s not just a timely reference to the mortgage crisis (although it’s that, too). Since The Patrick Wolf EP, the quiet domestic life of a holiday home in the east with pumpkin soup on the table has been a comfort longed for and never had. On Lycanthropy, bad love was a house with a bleeding basement and crumbling walls. Its collapse sent Patrick running to the lighthouse. On Wind in the Wires, the birth of a relationship begins with fixing up a railway house and weeding its garden. In ‘The Bluebell’, he locks the door and swallows the keys to his heart. Protecting the roof about ‘our’ (plural) heads in the face of arrears and job loss and debt is a statement that Patrick Wolf has unpacked his bags and put away his green tent. He’s moved in, and he’s here to stay.