Patrick_Wolf_The_bachelor_coverIn music there are some artists who enter the ring with little to no notoriety, but with each release step towards some late career masterpiece. On the other side of this spectrum, there are artists who hit their stride right from the get go, gaining instant acclaim for their first (and if they’re lucky, second) album. However, these artists are often cited later in their career as veering away from what him or her so special. While both kinds of modes can produce incredible work, the artists are bound to remain in obscurity until they hit the right mark, or very quickly fall from grace. It is rare that a musician is able to establish himself early on, continue to evolve musically, and still release quality albums several years down the line.

Patrick Wolf, the now 25 year old English singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, is one of these musicians. With his unique baritone singing style and violin mastery, Wolf made a name for himself with his 2003 debut Lycanthropy, on which he proved himself as a gifted lyricist who could sing about self identity and more loaded subjects with both precision and instrumental beauty. He continued to impress with 2005’s Wind in the Wires, where he gained even more acclaim with his dark lyrics and multiple layers of obscure instruments. It was on 2007’s The Magic Position, however, where Wolf made (arguably) his strongest statement by, oddly enough, doing a complete 180 degree shift in mood. Gone were many of the darker tales that plated his early work, replaced with songs of hope and love, of living life to the fullest. While it was a change of artistic direction, Wolf did not sacrifice any of the quirky charm that made listeners, and critics, fall in love with him in the first place. Suffice it to say, there is a lot riding on his fourth album, The Bachelor. This has not seem to bother Wolf at all, as he has added another top quality release to his already stunning catalog, while at the same time making one of the most beautiful albums of 2009.

Musically, The Bachelor is a feast for the ears. Wolf has always had a knack for knowing what instruments to use to reflect his lyrics, and how to use them to their full effect. As with almost all of his past work, the center of the majority of the songs revolves around Wolf’s prowess on the violin. You are unlikely to hear a more graceful use of the instrument from other artists, as he demonstrates on tracks like “Damaris” and “Thickets”. However, he has always been one to use a wide range of instruments in his work, and The Bachelor is no exception. From bass and drum heavy numbers (“Oblivion”) to using a large amount of synthesizers (“The Vulture”), Wolf shows that he has a unique ear for making arrangements that are both technically sound and powerful. This is easily one of the most instrumentally breathtaking albums that I have heard all year, with Wolf’s beautifully effortless baritone being the icing on top.

Perhaps the biggest thing that many listeners will notice about this album is that the overall tone of The Bachelor is a lot darker than The Magic Position. Wolf once again takes a more critical look at the world around him, with lyrics that cover a range of subjects from lost love, to battles with one’s own identity, to standing up to homophobia and closed-mindedness. For example, lead single “Hard Times”, an album standout that has one of the catchiest violin parts that you are likely to hear, discusses the acceptance of mediocrity in society and the current state of a world full of information. Amid a sea of electronics and violin, “Count of Casualty”, another great moment in album full of them, is a look at how most human interaction has been condensed to solely online interactions. However, where most other artists would simply point out the problem without either trying to find a root or offering a solution, almost all of the songs on The Bachelor have an air of optimism to them. There are always battles to be won, and ways to cope with emotional struggle or detachment. For example, on “Count of Casualty”, Wolf dares the listener to “Log off/sign out/delete your friends/Start to count your count of casualty”. Album closer “The Messenger” sees Wolf using his personal challenges as reasons to overcome and keep a positive outlook on life. It is the delicate balance between melancholy and optimism that makes this a very lyrically rewarding album.

Of course, The Bachelor is not without a few quirks. At fifty-one minutes and fourteen songs, some may find The Bachelor overly ambitious and unnecessarily long, as one can argue that some of the songs can get lost in the shuffle. Additionally, some may find Wolf’s lyrics to be a little too out there for them, as many US listeners will not get the English references and several of the metaphors. However, these do very little to hamper the overall feel of the album.

With The Bachelor, Patrick Wolf has shown why he is one of the rare few who can keep releasing quality work, while at the same time continuing to evolve.  He has grown as an artist, while at the same time staying consistent with his past achievements. The album’s lyrical depth, combined with the beautiful instrumentation and production, are enough to make this a contender for one the best albums of 2009. This album is highly recommended for both fans of Wolf and those who are eager to hear a great work of art.