x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A pleasant change as Patrick Wolf looks on the bright side

Patrick Wolf's usual angst has been replaced with high-energy, punky merriment - and it works.

Lupercalia
Mercury Records
****

Patrick Wolf has finally cheered up. One of Britain's most curious musicians, for so long flying the flag for tortured artists everywhere, brings us his happiest record to date.

Named after a pre-Roman festival of purification, Lupercalia smacks of love and joy, an electronic mish-mash of strings, harps, saxophones, plinky-plonky chords and handclaps. Opening with the The City, a fast-paced 1980s-sax-backed cheesefest in which Wolf wishes us the '"op, top, top of the morning'", the merriness continues almost unabated for its whole 40 minutes, pausing only with The Days, a waltzy ballad, and the rousing Armistice, which features the dudek, an Armenian wind instrument.

The pretension is still there, certainly, but the result is a collection of songs that offer well-crafted support for his rich vocals, rather than the more experimental efforts of his previous records. Wolf may have denied recent suggestions that this, his fifth studio album, is an attempt to break into mainstream, but it's clear with the singles The City and Time of My Life, a punchy, near-disco slice of string-laden pop, Lupercalia is the biggest effort yet to target his multi-instrumental skills towards a broader audience.

The final track, The Falcons, sums things up aptly, a lively, up-tempo, finger-clicking track in which Wolf bellows "Things are looking up, up, up for me". Let's hope so.