'It's wonderful what a smile can hide': a review of Patrick Wolf's The Magic Position

Posted by Expert Gadget Reviewer on Friday, 2 March 2007

Patrick Wolf’s new album is one that refuses to give its game away in the first listen, and as such is a welcome antidote to some of the more monotonous offerings of that near-cliché of a musical canon, indie. I say ‘game’ as many of the songs from The Magic Position possess a light-hearted and playful edge: Wolf’s smorgasbord of influences layered together in interesting pastiches, from the thumping dance beats and Tears for Fears-esque pop of ‘Accident & Emergency’, to the haunting strings and guest vocals of Marianne Faithfull on ‘Magpie’.

But pop-catchiness aside, The Magic Position is an album that bears repeated playbacks, revealing its often absorbing narratives to harbour darker, emotional concerns. ‘I fell off the wagon into your arms’ broods Wolf on ‘Bluebells’, possibly the strongest song on the album, revealing the vices of swinging from addiction to addiction; from alcohol to ‘the darker day’ of the lovers’ ‘final December’. The gloomy atmosphere of ‘Augustine’ bears similar reflection: ‘the bell tower blocks the summer light as the seeds in our garden fight’ sings Wolf, ukulele and subtly-placed piano complementing his engaging lyricism.

Clearly, then, Patrick Wolf has put some serious craftsmanship into this album, even the glossy laptop sheen of ‘Bluebells’ (something of a Wolf trademark) hinting at the generally uplifting, ‘dust down and move it along’ attitude of that song. Naturally, The Magic Position has its weaker moments: ‘Get Lost’, for example, bounces along as a catchy but predictably frothy piece of electro-pop, despite closing trombone bursts adding an interesting dimension to the song. But on the whole, it must be said that Wolf’s ambitions are set a hell of a lot higher than many of his contemporaries’: opening with an ‘Overture’ and closing with the gentle ‘Finale’ may be a nod towards substantial classical influences, but also an indication of the artistic integrity behind Wolf’s flamboyant and stylised persona. The album’s cover art says it all: the Wolf, clad in tight red three-quarter lengths, staring half-solemnly, half-defiantly from a colourful fairground carousel; the often playful pop-sensibilities of his music sharing space with ingenuity and a serious musical integrity. The object of his affection in the title song aside, then, and it’s Patrick Wolf who might just realign musical tastes to The Magic Position in 2007.