I saw Patrick Wolf very early on in his career at the original Stereo while he was touring Lycanthropy. The gig wasn’t very well attended, which made sense because Patrick was most definitely a cult artist at that point, beloved by critics and photographed for all the coolest magazines, who presented him as the coolest new thing in music. I’d look at those shots, starkly rendered in black and white, staring at those clothes, offset by cheekbones sharp enough to cut the paper they were printed on. I’ve said before, but it bears repeating: pop music is a genre of aesthetics and Patrick arrived with a look that seemed out of place, which of course is always the best way for an artist to announce themself to their new audience. Sometimes he looked like a street urchin from a Dickensian novel, the really fabulous one who refused to go out and steal for Fagin. On other occasions, he looked like his version of folk, without looking like a bearded scruff. When he arrived, it all seemed effortless. At Stereo, the size of a cupboard, he was there with a small backing band, all of them helping Patrick tour town and sing songs. It felt like the start of something incredibly powerful, a new voice that stood out in a time of a Libertines inspired rock overload. When everyone wanted to look like Beefeaters outside Westminister, Patrick looked like a refugee from the past, swept up in a timestrom that dumped him in 2003.
Lycanthropy is an album that has never left me. Literally. Even now, I still have it on my iPod. With stories of strange England told using digital beats, folk, chamber pop, and baroque freakishness, I listened and listened, every night in bed, waiting in the dark for the next track to start. The first song I ever heard of Patrick was Bloodbeat, which I *think* was played at Club Suicide in Manchester. Oh, I was never there. From a distance, I looked at their website, wishing I could be somewhere else, a place where weird music got played. In Glasgow, those places existed, but they were places I knew too well. Lycanthropy became a soundtrack for something I wanted, but couldn’t quite put into words. I’m better at that now. A sense of longing for adventure, but also fear for what was outside the window. The only glass I peered at was the computer screen in front of me, where blogs became a way of findind new artists. Magazines, of course, helped. That’s where I first caught sight of Patrick, in an issue of Dazed celebrating new artists you simply had to hear. From there to Club Suicide (by way of the internet), I found a favourite new thing.
Bloodbeat is the perfect pop song to ‘get’ what Patrick was offering. My blood beats black tonight… he starts off, slightly fey, yet insistent. I want this night inside of me… When that beat starts, it’s unexpected. By the time the little squelching synths bleep out the speaker, it could be the best song ever, like all my favourite songs are until they end and the next track starts.
Lycanthropy feels like a very English album. It conjures up cobbled streets, dark spaces, murky woods where witches dance free. But like all of my favourite albums, this one makes me feel like I know the artist better – or at least what the artist is at that time. Don’t Say No shows Patrick tentatively agreeing to something that frightens him, but he throw himself into it regardless. The chorus acts as an explanation (and fortification to himself?) that he can’t say no to this, whatever this is. I’d wonder if he wrote his songs autobiographically, or just tells stories that he invents, strangely romantic tales. Or both? For me, one of the great thing about these songs is that I can’t really tell.
Another brilliant moment on the album is Paris, which sounds like Nine Inch Nails and Atari Teenage Riot battling each other with beats. It was particularly immense live and my tinnitus is a tribute to that night. The other highpoint on Lycanthropy is the quiet, contemplative Demolition. A sparse beautiful little music box beat supports careful strings and Patrick’s mournful delivery. Since I met you/this house has started to decay/and every wall that once was clean/has turned a shade of grey. It’s an introspective moment that puts me in mind of Kate Bush’s Get Out Of My House, another song that uses the home as a metaphor for the artist’s personal life. But Patrick and Kate approach the subjects differently, both in really interesting ways. There’s a probably a playlist somewhere waiting to be made full of songs about houses.
Patrick Wolf would arguably better this album with Wind In The Wire, but his debut is a time in my life, a moment between different places physically and mentally, somewhere in the middle of hope and hopelessness. I always enjoy going back to Lycanthropy, which has aged extremely well, still feeling timeless in contrast to the records released in that period. It is an album of susbtance and class, with plenty of style, never overwrought or contrived to the point of parody.