Hawksley Workman – [Album]

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Over the last seven years (2003's Lover/Fighter started this trend), Hawksley Workman has continually trailed ever further from the fantastic and plastic vaudevillian center that he established with (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves and elected to test drive a host of personas and images – from the modern and idiosyncratic new romantic aesthete on Treeful Of Starling to a hyper-masculine chest-beater on Los Manlicious to a classic rocking bard on Between The Beautifuls. In each case and as each successive album has come out, Hawksley has successfully deepened and expanded his character by playing them well but never totally giving himself over to them; one could almost assume there's a kicker line appended to the bottom of the liner  notes of each successive release that reads, “featuring Hawksley Workman as this new <insert appropriate adjective here> kind of character.”

To a certain degree, that pattern continues on Meat; the streamlined electronics and keyboards in songs like “You Don't Just Want To Break Me (You Want To Tear Me Apart),” “Baby Mosquito” and “The Ground We Stand On” offer a sort of chilly, world music quality to the proceedings but there's no arguing that those elements are only edging into a dramatism that finds Hawksley Workman orchestrating a return to the absurdist, “Jealous of Your Cigarette” theater that opened the singer's career.

Those quirky electronics don't manifest right away (“Song For Sarah Jane” opens the record with a stripped-to-nothing-but-piano plaint) but, when they do, the shift between singer-songwriter-esque introspection and guitar-driven performance art is complete and seamless. Using a garish but enormous production wherein guitars distort in the cleanest possible way (check “French Girl In LA”), Hawksley turns classic guitar rock forms on their collective ear as he over-exerts every convention of the form and turns it into a whole different kind of experience all its own. Translation? Suffice it to say that as he the singer laminates each of these eleven songs as he works his way along through them, vacuum-sealing the rough edges down to make them safe and cute in their own odd little way; he Hawksley-izes them.

The upside to that is, because fans haven't heard the singer utilize this approach or style in a while, it will strike them as a genuine return. Think of Meat as (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves v. 2.0 given it's obviously modern-sounding than any of the material that the singer has released previously (surprising too – for a well-schooled drummer to use electronic percussion so heavily), but it's still aiming in that direction.

So does Meat qualify as a genuine return to form for Hawksley Workman? Well, yes, in many ways the album is the enactment of a return, but it has the added benefit of including some new dynamics (more well-orchestrated vocal performances beyond the obligatory gang chorus mark the most noticeable difference in performance) and ideas that the singer has picked up since last he tread upon this vaudevillian terrain, so it comes across here with more force and confidence along with a bigger sound to back it all up. Meat is the best kind of return to form for Hawksley Workman; he's back on his first act, but he's also renovated the theater to give it some fresh appeal.



Hawksley Workman – "We'll Make Time (Even When There Ain't No Time)" – Meat

Further Reading:

Ground Control's review of Los Manlicious

Ground Control's review of For Him And The Girls (reissue)


Meat comes out on January 26, 2010 and will be available as a Canadian import. Pre-order it here on Amazon .


Hawksley Workman – [Album]

Monday, 01 September 2008

When Hawksley Workman released Between The Beautifuls earlier this year, it was to tremendous critical response and fans justifiably awestruck at the singer’s sudden turn. Where once the singer found new innovative and fantastic ways to intermingle spirits of romance both high and low brow with garish electronics and hooks that had a habit of catching you when you weren’t looking, Between The Beautifuls saw him spontaneously changing directions into distinctly and unmistakably classic rock-sounding provinces. Suddenly Bruce Springsteen became the reference that Hawksley began garnering as critics wondered if Between The Beautifuls was the first shot in what would be the singer’s mature sound.

They’d be wrong however. See, in Hawksley Workman’s case, the aesthetic is part of the thrill for the singer, but the act is the thing he lives for and, with Los Manlicious, he’s proven without saying so that the ’mature sound’ was just another act of persona piracy and he’s grown bored with it – so he’s going to move on.

From the first crash of “When You Gonna Flower,” Hawksley Workman sounds notice in no uncertain terms that he’s rewritten his character again. Now appearing for the first time with a shorn head in the liner photos and with enormous (as well as enormously distorted) guitars dominating the songs, Los Manlicious is the singer’s presentation of a much more robust Hawksley Workman. On first listen, the brain recoils instinctively at the song’s in-your-face guitar licks and Hawksley’s hyper-masculine vocal delivery, but listeners find themselves reaching to hear it again as it fades because the difference between that one song alone and anything the singer has done previously is enormous and instantly attractive. While Hawksley has always commanded attention because his almost vaudevillian vocal delivery is just so alien; with “When You Gonna Flower,” the singer doesn’t ask politely for or command attention, he just reaches out and takes it.

While the heavy power chording of the intro track doesn’t continue throughout the record, the attention-grabbing spirit does. As Manlicious progresses, Hawksley Workman tries on the staple sounds of Eighties rock royalty including (but not limited to) The Police (“Kissing Girls” and “It’s A Drug”), The Cure (“Prettier Face”). The Eagles (“In The Bedroom In The Daytime”) and Duran Duran (“Lonely People”) – cat-birding each one but also injecting a bit of himself into each as well – and reinventing his image again (including, in a self-reflexive moment, re-working “The City Is A Drag” and “Oh You Delicate Heart” from Between The Beautifuls) step-by-step in the process. It’s actually pretty cool to hear each track on the record take the singer another step out of what listeners have come to expect from the singer, even from the songs they might recognize.

It’s also important to note that, on records previous, Hawksley Workman has always gotten listeners to fall in love with him by keeping a certain abstract romanticism close at hand so that, even when he’s coyly asking a girl to strip tease for him for example, he still comes off as sweet and a little chased. That romance is abandoned on Los Manlicious in favor of the singer asking point blank for S-E-X (the “Lipstick makes you fuck like a disaster” line in “In My Blood” should be proof enough) and by the closing “Fatty Wants To Dance” he’s slipped totally into Prince mode as he sleazes his way out onto the dance floor accompanied by a carousing bass line, gang choral refrains and a wah guitar that’s instant panty remover. While the idea of subtlety has always been one of the tools that Hawksley Workman has used to the greatest advantage, he doesn’t bother here and that omission is remarkably tantalizing rather than off-putting.

That said, Los Manlicious is about as far from anything fans have heard from Hawksley Workman before as he’s ever been. It’s dirty, it’s carnal and totally lacking in the sort of artifice we’ve come to expect from the singer. Even so, it’s not unwelcome in the slightest; as “Fatty Wants To Dance” fades, listeners will be reaching for the repeat button to have the singer do it to them again.



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