Patrick Wolf's enigmatic mythology is the stuff of haunted prodigy tales, an unwinding yarn of musical eclecticism, youthful (and Wolf is young
) wandering, and restless trouble. All of those aspects are gorgeously written into the startling, baroque Wind in the Wires
, and suffused with palpable longing, deft craftsmanship and deep, dramatic emotion. For starters, Wolf's voice exudes more angst and desire than a hundred J.D. Salinger novels, winding listlessly through expansive melodies and broad ranges. It's melodramatic, yes, but the lyrical and instrumental scenes that Wolf embraces with his accomplished vocal style are themselves mystical, erotic and otherworldly. They evade overbearing headiness by virtue of their lack of affectation; each suite that populates the haunted other-highway of Wolf's imagination is clear-eyed and genuine.
Moreover, they're beautiful songs, evoking atmosphere not through gimmickry but through emotional, technically proficient arrangements. While acts like Muse and Lovedrug try to grip heartstrings with ham-fists, Wolf plucks them by investing each one of his pieces with elements whose interactions and combined effects create organic emotional responses. His melodies, in particular, can be devastating; the title track's minor key bloodletting makes the most of guitar, strings, piano and Wolf's trademark electronic tweaking as they converge towards catharsis. "The Gypsy King"'s wavering chorus melody mirrors Wolf's lyrical uncertainty about his road to peace and rest. And "This Weather", whose strings positively weep over its delicate piano refrain, is a melancholy slice of melodic genius.
Wolf is not interested in catharsis-by-volume. His songs unwind and coil into tense layers, sometimes stuttering, sometimes evaporating into thin air, only to rush back onto his haunted stage on the wings of swooning instrumental variations. The elements he uses are certainly baroque, involving many permutations of strings and piano contributions, but by limiting the space they take on stage, and augmenting them with atypical laptop embellishments, he makes them sound distinctly modern. Thus, despite its initial melodramatic chamber pop ambience, "The Libertine" takes on a markedly contemporary edge via rhythmic crackling bursts. From that moment on, the remarkable pop prowess that undergirds Wolf's work is cast in a unique light -- and only made brighter by his terrific vocals. Naturally, this much theatrical -- but never facetious -- pomp and prettiness can be heavy, but it's never overbearing. Surprisingly, given the album's gravitas, it's relatively easy to enjoy in a single sitting. And another after that. And another after that one. But then, isn't that the case with all superb records?