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Record Rack | UP AND COMING

Showing off his animal instincts

June 06, 2004|Richard Cromelin

Patrick Wolf

"Lycanthropy" (Tomlab)

*** 1/2

Turning into a werewolf has never seemed like much fun, but in his often-gripping debut album, this 20-year-old musician makes the prospect seductive. More remarkable, he turns what could be an impossibly precious premise into an involving narrative, in which the moonlight makeover becomes both a means of survival and a symbol of the passage from boy to man.

The howl-filled incantations that herald the process are richly haunting with their Celtic folk overtones, but the heart of the album is the singer's evocation of his treacherous habitat -- a London that saps a young man's spirit and destroys his innocence. "The Childcatcher" is startling as much for the uninhibited anguish of Wolf's vocal as for the graphic account of a sexual molestation. It resonates with the palpable damage done to the victim and the pure evil of the perpetrator.

Sexual self-mutilation also figures in this disorienting landscape, but Wolf, who was born in Ireland and grew up in London, always manages to keep something hopeful in sight. He traverses his city like a digital Dickens, setting his vignettes to propulsive computer pitter-patter, rich, string-section pop and electronic cabaret, singing in the broad, warm tones of a theatrical street urchin -- wounded but determined, holding steady to his theme of survival and transcendence.

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