Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Patrick Wolf – House

Remember when all he wanted was total chaos and a holiday home in the east? Well…


Anthony Easton: I love this. I cannot even tell you why. It’s swoony, romantic, horribly lovely: sort of Pet Shop Boys doing a soundtrack to a reboot of Brideshead Revisited, but without the edge. That should sound horrible, but it’s amazing and wonderful and unjustifiable.

W.B. Swygart: Oh fuck. How dare you hit my buttons this squarely, you cunt. You fucker. Making me think about how “The Whole of the Moon” is awesome just for its fucking size, which is fine, because it’s enormous. You utter shit, Patrick. You fucking nob-end. I want to hug somebody and waltz slowly across floorboards and celebrate the music of my childhood – Semisonic, the Connells, “Linger” and absolutely no other song by the Cranberries. Bellow this fucking chorus. Be this happy. Be this relieved. Be this sure. Feel this comfortable. This song is wonderful even if I think the first time I heard it was on the in-store radio at the supermarket, which, as with all songs on said medium, made me feel a bit stabby. Now, tonight, I’m delighted that someone else gets it too, and I feel like putting this song on headphones and crying while listening to it on public transport. You fucking bastard.

Michaela Drapes: Patrick Wolf previously painted unbridled lust and growing pains and anger and heartbreak with the boldest brushes possible; it shouldn’t be so mind-boggling that he’s pulled the grandest weapons out of his arsenal to sing about the restorative powers of true love. In the opening moments of the song, a few seconds of slightly sinister synths echo previous angst but quickly slip away to a twining, organic arrangement of New Romantic-ish bombastic strings, sprightly guitars, and splashy drums. The thing that makes me happiest here, though, is that Wolf is finally taking his voice — that massive and wonderful thing –out for a showoff-y run spanning husky whispers to soaring, unreal yawps. I realize that all the sappy lyrics might make those allergic to sentimentality mightily ill, but I am completely helpless against the charms of this new, happy version of Wolf — and for his sake, I hope it lasts.

Edward Okulicz: The piano melody could basically be ABBA, which is why Patrick Wolf’s unique tremble of a voice is initially slightly jarring on top of it. But his is a rich emotional palate; when he sings he loves something, his voice quivers a little more over the words. He also breaks into a surer croon on the magnificently soaring chorus. And not one piece of the arrangement is gratuitous or superfluous – the strings in particular are sweet, not saccharine. In fact, where The Magic Position seemed forced on its happier numbers, here Wolf wears the contentment well. Lupercalia is stuffed full of songs whose one-two punches of emotion can catch you off-guard, and this is its most gorgeous.

B Michael Payne: Patrick Wolf has a proper single? Good for him! “House” is perfectly pleasant. Its very first opening moments recall Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” which tuned my expectations in such a way as for them to be defied. This is not a pop banger. It is a perfectly fine, slightly MOR, single. While I can’t really place it among Wolf’s best songs, it may serve to get more fans into the Patrick Wolf camp.

Alfred Soto: After years of earnest electro tinkle. Wolf swipes an ABBA piano line and records a full-throated ballad. Other than the vocal similarities to the guy from OMD attempting Luther’s version of “A House is Not a Home,” he sounds fetching.

Michaelangelo Matos: I bought a ticket to the world, but now I’ve come back again. (Hi, guys!)

Zach Lyon: I like this for its personality more than its sound or musicality, strictly as a distillation of comfort, peace (obv) and what sounds like a very genuine love.

Iain Mew: Patrick has always had a way with writing grand, sweeping songs which hit with an elemental force but are still believably intimate and personal. For his second go on a major label he’s dropped some of the more ornate detailing and written some comparably straightforward love songs, but this could still be no one else. There’s a great deal of sophistication and thought in to its hymn to the possibilities brought about by the security of a relationship, but more important is the heart-on-sleeve urgency with which he sings it: never has contented domesticity sounded so bloody exciting.

Jonathan Bogart: Lovely, galloping, straining to soar but earthbound in the best possible sense (earth is really great yo). I’m almost ashamed that I just don’t get any emotion from it; its pleasures are strictly sonic, strictly understood.

Alex Ostroff: I’ll admit at the outset that it is completely impossible for me to be remotely objective about Patrick Wolf. His music is interwoven with the past seven years of my life, having acted as balm, inspiration, steel and spine at various points in time. The feral teenager of uncertain and volatile desires of Lycanthropy was everything I wouldn’t or couldn’t dare to be in high school; the pastoral static electricity of Wind in the Wires was a calm escape from the harsh realities of my parents’ divorce; and the (apologies, Patrick) flamboyant and ambiguously queer pop of The Magic Position gave me an early role model when preparing to come out. Even my attempts to sort through my post-closet post-graduation identity were soundtracked by his frustration and depression on The Bachelor. All of which is to say that some people may listen to “House” and hear Radio 2 marmite, deliberately designed for contentment and pleasantness and mothers and Tesco, and some might hear selling out and growing up and abandoning his roots. But I hear sweeping strings (impeccably arranged, as always), and the resolution of a journey that started with Lycanthropy. Our hero has run run run as fast as he can with his bedroom-built theremin, away from home, school, sexuality, and the Childcatcher. He’s run to Paris to start it all again, to lighthouses in search of identity, to cut his penis off and let no foot mark his ground. He’s wandered through the British countryside with a green tent and a violin, gotten lost and enchanted with platonic artistic loves in secret gardens, lost himself in danger and dead meat in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin. And now, finally, he has ventured back to the city, full circle, having learned how to battle and how to be conquered, and finally decides to lay down his weapons in armistice, to look to the future and mark time and ground together with someone else, to build houses and homes.

21 Responses to “Patrick Wolf – House”

  1. The one in which we totally fangirl over P. Wolf.

  2. Um… I guess this is okay? I’ll have to listen to it a few more times; usually, when I find myself disagreeing with a highly rated song, it’s because I haven’t heard it enough. Let’s hope that’s the case?

  3. I sort of agree with Trevor (I’d probably give it a 6). Honestly what this song/post reveal is the built-in bias we pop critics apparently all have for twee new-wave-embracing Brits. I thought I had a problem, but apparently y’all have it even worse than me.

  4. Maybe! Who else counts as a twee new-wave-embracing Brit though?

  5. Yeah, I’m not buying this twee-new-wave-embracing Brit bias thing. I have no idea who’d I peg with that label, honestly: Florence? Bat for Lashes? La Roux? Frankly, ‘twee’ is about the last word in the world I’d use to describe Patrick Wolf’s work.

    What no one will say here, and I will, is that this song is the quintessence of queerness. And, not to be all captain of the obvious about this, but that either appeals to you, or it doesn’t.

  6. “The one in which we totally fangirl over P. Wolf.” Pretty much.

    @Chris: I’m not sure if I would have ever described PW as ‘twee’ and I have an avowed love for Los Campesinos! and Heavenly and Belle & Sebastian, etc.

  7. Apologies for the overly personal blurb that has nothing to do with the song, btw, y’all. There’s a very short list of things that I am embarrassingly queer about/for and this is one of them.

    Part of me wishes that I could have heard this with completely fresh ears, if only to see how I would have felt about it absent context. Because while I think it’s a totally stunning song, there are moments here that I’m sure I would roll my eyes at if they didn’t feel somehow earned.

    His 2002 EP has a lovely track called ‘Pumpkin Soup’ ( which is all about your mother’s soup on an autumn evening and how everything changes, including this. The nine years between then and now have felt like a struggle to return to that song, and I’m not really sure what he’s going to do now that he has.

  8. No need to apologise! I thought it was rather beautiful and I don’t think that’s just because I have also loved every one of his albums (though I got on at Wind in the Wires and haven’t related to any of them in the same kind of direct emotional way as you describe, at least up until this one when I listen with a big grin and tears in my eyes and try to decide which song most needs to be played at my wedding – for now I’m favouring “Together”).

    On another note, if this is the quintessence of queerness, what is “Bermondsey Street”?

  9. Michaela: Yeah, that’s sort of the spine here… could not stop hearing this as a queer narrative, and it keeps making me think about the idea that simply existing in peace can be a radical action, etc.

  10. @Iain: Well, there’s a straight couple in “Bermondsey Street” too — or is that your point?

    I suppose I was too in love with my own lofty thoughts with that phrase (a tragic flaw of mine, to be sure) — I think Zach’s more on the right track. That outside of the “It Gets Better” claptrap, existing in peace is kind not just the goal of our time here, but also something that everyone deserves a shot at having, no matter the journey taken get there or who you make that peace with.

    There’s very, very few examples in the world of queer narratives with happy endings. The fact that Patrick Wolf puts this one out there is more of a bellwether of a sea change than a lot of other other pop stars’ recent work. *ahem*

  11. Argh, I wish I could edit my comment. Strike ‘kind’ from the second graf.

  12. V disappointed that the screenshot wasn’t of him doing the ironing while a toucan drinks a pint of Guinness etc.

    The song’s alright I guess? I’ve never really liked Morrissey.

  13. @Michaela: Well, mostly just that it’s much more explicit about it in general – is there anything in “House” which means that it couldn’t be about a woman? (I mean, his/her face reminds him of “a Dylan Thomas”, not just of “Dylan Thomas”, right?)

  14. @Iain: Ah, I see what you mean. I don’t subscribe to the idea that specific pronouns must be used so a song can be explicitly shunted into a specially-labelled bucket. The one of the strengths of “House” is that it doesn’t do that, but the cues are there if you know how to read them.

    (But, FWIW, I hear the lyric as “I see Dylan Thomas in your face” — without the ‘a’ — but I could be wrong. And not to be all SUPERFAN about this, but William does quite resemble the esteemed poet.)

  15. *consults album booklet* You’re actually right on that line! And point taken anyway, I wasn’t saying that this couldn’t still be quintessentially queer, just that “Bermondsey Street” seemed more strikingly so.

    I don’t think I’ve seen William.

  16. what about this reads as queer, or is it only queer b/c we have the context…i mean sorting out what queer domesticity means is the next great radical struggle, no?

  17. I don’t think it codes particularly queer except for his comparison of his love to Dylan Thomas and Butler Yeats, but that’s easily missed if you aren’t reading closely. So, not as explicit as Bermondsey Street. And definitely not as explicitly queer as the 50 second centrepiece of the album, which includes the line “Oh William, will you be my conqueror?”.

  18. that’s a great line–with it’s allusions to Shakespeare (the Sonnets) and Wilde’s readings of the Sonnet’s and Morrissey’s readings of Wilde’s readings of the Sonnet’s (William it was really nothing), and the aforementioned William Butler Yeats.

  19. With the added bonus of the terrible/wonderful William the Conqueror/his fiancé’s name is William pun.

  20. 4sure.

  21. Huh, so I like two Patrick Wolf songs now. There you go.

    And ffs, Los Campesinos! aren’t twee. They’re way too scaberous for that.