PATRICK WOLF at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Friday (May 11), 7 pm. $12 tickets at door only. 416-777-1777. And opening for AMY WINEHOUSE at the Mod Club (722 College), Saturday and Sunday (May 12 and 13). $19.50. 416-588-4663. Rating: NNNNN
Something serious must've hap pened to Brit wunderkind Patrick Wolf prior to recording his recent orch-pop epic, The Magic Position (Loog/Universal). The grandly realized major-key anthems that roar forth are strikingly different in tone and concept from his dark sophomore release, 2005's Wind In The Wires (Tomlab). And it seems less like a natural progression than a complete about-face.
Not that that's a bad thing. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to one-up each other with effusive praise for Wolf's huge and cheery new sound, but you have to wonder what caused the dramatic change in direction.
While Wolf stops short of blaming Canada, Toronto does figure into the shift in world view that made The Magic Position possible, but you'd never know it from all the stories that get written about Wolf's taste in hot pants and platform shoes.
"When my first album, Lycanthropy (Tomlab), came out in the summer of 2003," explains Wolf over his cellphone on the way to Boston, "my friends in London were confused by the press attention I was getting and a little jealous, too which left me with no one in my phone book I could call any more.
"And then, through Joel Gibb of the Hidden Cameras, I met (West Wing Art Space co-founder) Ingrid Z, who had just moved from Toronto to London, and we instantly became partners in crime.
"Ingrid and I are both very dark characters with quite solitary histories, but somehow we cancelled out each other's negativity, like adding -1 to -1 and getting +10!"
They rented a little cottage together and painted each room a different colour of the spectrum, so, says Wolf, it was like living in a technicolour Disneyland.
"When I first sat at the piano to start work on the follow-up to Wind In The Wires, I found it very difficult to write miserable songs; it just felt like I was lying. Here I'd found this precious jewel, and I wanted to tell the world about it.
"Suddenly, all my songs were in major keys. It was very strange."
Although he's no longer a cottagemate of Ingrid Z, who started the Chopshop fashion label and opened an East London gallery called The Residence, Wolf insists that they're still "as close as two people could be without wanting to get married."
He's since become a good pal of Amy Winehouse, who invited Wolf to join her for a few dates on her current tour. Evidently, they share a taste for turkey sandwiches and tattoos, although I don't recall seeing any unicorns on Winehouse's body.
"We both have horseshoes Amy's got that big one on her arm, and mine is on the part of my back where animals get branded. We have a mutual friend in Kelly Osbourne, who provided the link, and our friendship has just grown naturally ever since.
"Actually, I'm working on remixing her song Tears Dry On Their Own, which I've been meaning to finish out here on the road, but the battery just ran out on my laptop."
Wolf has already begun preparatory work for his next two albums, one an overtly political hardcore electronic throwdown with Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire that is bound to be controversial. However, the real potential for trouble lies in his other project, a classical piece involving a string orchestra.
"I may be going to Iraq to record the classical album," he lets slip with mischievous glee. "With Prince Harry going to join the British army in Iraq, it seems that he's making a public gesture to promote war. Well, I'd like to go there to create something positive out of their negativity. I'll be working with Iraqi musicians. I've found an all-female orchestra there, and all the songs are written and ready to go.
"The point of all this isn't to make a political statement, but rather a gesture to promote brotherly and sisterly love beyond politics, race and religion."
Before Patrick Wolf went on tour, he got himself a unicorn tattoo on his chest. Here are five other likely candidates for some unicorn artwork.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Patrick Wolf confesses that his father was indeed a member of punk parody group The Snivelling Shits
Joni Mitchell provided Patrick Wolf with crucial inspiration