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Patrick Wolf – Sundark and Riverlight

Nicola Sloan


Patrick Wolf celebrates his tenth anniversary in music with a stripped-back recording featuring acoustic versions of a selection of his songs. Always one to have full creative control, instead of going for a standard singles collection, he’s chosen fan favourites and songs that have grown with him over the years, and seem most relevant to him today.

Wolf has always been something of a shape shifter in the music business, both in sound and image. He’s a genre-spanning multi-instrumentalist ranging stylistically from neo-folk to urban electronica, but here the songs are united beneath a sylvan cloak, perfect for listening to on these autumn evenings. The album comes in two parts: the first eight songs are ‘Sundark’, which are darker thematically, and the second lot of eight songs are ‘Riverlight’; songs filled with hope and love.

Some songs are enhanced by the bare bones acoustic approach. Opener Wind In The Wires replaces its Bowie-esque swagger and laptop production with dramatic violins and a hammered dulcimer, exposing the raw soul of the song beneath the original’s computerised sheen. However, since Wolf has always been a fan of electronica, some songs lose a little in translation in their acoustic format. This is the case with Oblivion, taken from the album Bachelor; an album which didn’t exactly hold back when it came to heavy, hard-edged electronic production, and you have the sense that Wolf is restraining himself vocally so as not to overpower the lighter instrumentation.

Libertine gains in wailing violins which do the song credit, though Vulture has the most striking transition in sound amongst the collection, morphing from the brutal, sado-machismo electronic fury of the original (yep, another Bachelor track) into a stark, beautiful torch ballad, even if Wolf’s weighty baritone seems somewhat subdued in the verses. Meanwhile, Paris serves as the turning point on the album; where the mood begins to shift from ‘Sundark’ into ‘Riverlight’; with its theme of hope and redemption. Although it still has that wonderful chorus, it loses something in the sense that, due to the acoustic rendering, it no longer has the breathtaking juxtaposition of violins and electronica white noise which made the original so brain-stirringly brilliant.

Together and Magic Position are just as wonderful in their stripped-back forms, as is the new version of Bermondsey Street, now called simply Bermondsey, with its bassy piano and pretty hammered dulcimer. The track features Russian spoken word vocals at the beginning and end about love knowing no boundaries, as a form of protest against the anti-gay law that was recently imposed in St Petersburg. London is the track from whose lyrics the title of this album was derived, and along with its fellow Lycanthropy tracks Paris and Wolf Song you can hear how Wolf’s voice has evolved since his first album, his youthful sneer being replaced by a stronger baritone.

Wolf intended this album as a rally against over-production. It’s unsure whether this will attract new fans, although, as I said, its instrumental sound seems the perfect backdrop to an autumnal evening, with the deep rich grand piano and grumbling bassoons. He’s even been sure to include songs with autumnal lyrics, with House: “Oh I love to hear those conkers fall”, and Bluebells: “Lucy remember the smell of that fall, the fires, the fungus and the rotting leaves.”  A pretty listen, if maybe a little too stripped back in places, meaning that some tracks have lost their original essence.