Hawksley Workman – [Album]

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Sometimes, after so many years gone and creative turns made, it becomes nearly impossible to discern where exactly a musician began his creative arc. In some cases, listeners simply come to expect a clean artistic slate upon the announcement of another album from some musicians; with a history of change already on the books, the assumption that the artist in question might repeat himself is a sucker bet. The game is going to change and is going to do it on a whim. The second edge to such a creative process is that, while everyone concentrates on the next set of altered variables, the preceding changes that have come along become a blur; as is the case with any chameleon, the focus is never on what color the surroundings were yesterday or even five minutes ago; the focus is on the “now” and all the preceding “thens” are irrelevant.

Such is the case until people start to notice the chameleon's presence and wonder how it got there or how it came to be what it is now.

Hawksley Workman (nee Ryan Corrigan) is that sort of creature and, now, as the rumblings of a new release start to sound, excitement, interest and curiosity are starting to build.

At the same time, some might remember that, when the new release, Meat, does hit [on January 19, 2010 –ed], it won't have fallen from the sky. In fact, Meat will be Hawksley Workman's ninth full-length studio album since first appearing on the pop radar at the turn of the century and, in that time, the singer has changed characters  almost as often as most people change their socks. In ten years, Corrigan has crooned while sitting between the beautifuls, spent a year as a delicious wolf, popped a punk-looking vein on Los Manlicious, been a lover, been a fighter, surfed the new wave (on (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves) and bared his soul to a succession of blushing women, but which is the real Hawksley Workman? Which is the true songwriter?

The answer to that question may never be known exactly, or it may be as clear as accepting that every character that Corrigan has portrayed is just that; another device that represents the idea of a wildly talented multi-instrumentalist musician in theory, but it's all just a game in fact.

If listeners tread back far enough, they'll see that the game and the dramatism may indeed have been the very thing that first piqued Hawksley Workman's interest. The singer's first release (chronologically, his second recording – Before We Were Security Guards was recorded in 1998 but went unreleased until 2004) was a different breed again in every way from everything that would follow it.

Ten years ago on For Him And The Girls, Hawksley Workman may indeed have been offering clues to the methodology for everything that would come later, although none of them were overt. From the very opening of “Maniacs,” listeners are presented with a comic and angular creation that would be off-putting in its garish design (say what you want, yodeling can be difficult to take on the best day) if it wasn't so good-natured and light. With the sounds (gang yodeling, a sticky sweet melody and a charging beat notably) assembled as they are too, a dominant vibe of absurdism begins to take shape on “Maniacs,” like a new sort of vaudeville; the subject matter addressed is serious (as much as love and madness can be) but presented in a way that makes it impossible to be taken seriously.

That undecided but lush approach will have listeners captivated immediately.

From there, Hawksley endeavors to color and better detail the approach set forth in “Maniacs” with as many classic theatrical designs  and ideas as he can lay his hands on. The ghosts of old punk rock ideals (think Patti Smith, The Voidoids of Talking Heads) get rolled out and tagged with vibrant colors in “No Sissies” before they're wheeled as mannequins onto the cabaret set of “Sad House Daddy” wjere the singer tangos with their stiff bodies in “Tarantulove.” In each case, there's no doubt that the only entity in the presentation with a pulse is the singer himself but, as he plays out each scenario on For Him And The Girls, each body is reanimated to a sort of half-life and, if that doesn't take, the singer will pick them up and loco-mote himself. It's an unusual image that Hawksley Workman constructs for himself, but listeners can't help but want to see what sorts of illusions and re-enactments he plays out next.

Hawksley doesn't disappoint either as he makes his way through still more of his one-man vignettes. The emotional range covered through “Don't Be Crushed,” “Stop Joking Around” and “No More Named Johnny” is remarkable – particularly when combined as it is here with the abstract (and anachronistic) trappings and structures of these songs – and made all the more lovable as the singer stretches and bends his own throat to accommodate and accentuate each. Incredible too is the moment when listeners start to realize that, as he contorts himself, so too does he begin to bend the timbres of the music.

By the end, the structure of “Beautiful And Natural” is so warped and denatured that it can barely support the singer or the comparatively modest instrumentation of the song. The timbres tilt and sway haphazardly as Hawksley Workman attempts to balance on top of them and the image that the singer has created here seems on the verge of collapse. Listeners will gasp involuntarily at the harrowing turns that both the singer and the song take and wonder which is in fact sustaining which.

And then, it ends – just as simply and neatly as that. It comes almost as a jolt, but listeners didn't realize they were being walked backwards out of Hawksley Workman's house of mirrors until they fall out the back door and the show's over with no injuries reported, just a whole lot of consciousness expanded.

So, this being Hawksley Workman's first album, what do listeners learn about the work in contrast to all of the albums that came since? For Him And The Girls doesn't offer much in the way of intimate insight on the interior workings of Hawksley Workman other than the fact that his stage personae was absolutely seamless, even ten years ago, and that stands as the food for thought. While the singer has voluntarily gutted and rethought his work several times over in the last decade, there has been one constant: the character – maybe even more than the play – is the thing. “The Examination Of Hawksley Workman” begins with For Him And The Girls and the plot would only deepen from here.



Hawksley Workman – “Sweet Hallelujah” – For Him And The Girls


For Him And The Girls
is now domestically available in the United States. Buy it here on Amazon .

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