My Favorite Album of 2011: Patrick Wolf's Lupercalia

Patrick Wolf's fifth album, Lupercalia, is the epitome of a perfect pop record. In a focused forty minutes, the singer walks us through the ups and downs of love. Each song is a carefully chosen pop gem--whether that be the hooky anthems, blatant dance tracks, or swooning ballads. And, Wolf has never been in better voice; as he continues to mature, his smooth baritone develops more texture, depth, and resonance. Lupercalia is a delightful listen.

Unlike some of his peers, Wolf has created an album that is both quintessentially queer as well as universal. In part, the album is a tribute to his partner, William, and their engagement. A listener familiar with Wolf's skepticism about love can tell his mood has changed with the kickoff track (and first single) "The City." However, while the album revels in its love story about two men, it also works to strike a more universal chord. We see this best in "Bermondsey Street," which presents both a straight couple and gay couple falling in love and getting engaged; Wolf sings "Love knows no boundaries/ It sees beyond sexuality./ Holds the sun in the palm of its hand,/ laughs down on the cynical man." The songs are both extremely personal and archetypal.

Wolf has also made sure that the album goes somewhere, which is to say he has given the project an arc. Such a narrative allows the album to transcend emotional repetition (as we hear, for example, in Adele's wonderful but redundant 21) to create a complex view of love: domestic bliss ("House"), hope ("The Future"), heartbreak ("Time of My Life"), loneliness ("Slow Motion"), longing ("Together"), and, ultimately, redemption ("The Falcons"). The album not only creates its own romantic landscape, it also journeys the ranges of that landscape.

Already a critical darling, Patrick Wolf continues to better himself with each record. This year's release is his third stellar pop album in a row (following 2007's The Magic Position and 2009's The Bachelor). He is a talent to continue to watch, and a talent who seems to be settling into his gifts with grace and precision. Now, if only Top 40 radio could give him some much deserved love.

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