Cult Canadian dandy grapples with his dual personality on third LP

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Overall rating:

Score 4

Product:

Bipolar Expedition

An unfettered performer admired by Thom Yorke and movie stars, a raconteur, a Canadian who’s revered in France, a camp cabaret diva who can in a blink mutate into a cross between Springsteen and Strummer, Hawksley Workman is all things to… well, to half a dozen gushing UK critics at this moment.

The cult of Workman?surely not his real name?is about to explode. There’s major-label oomph behind his third album, and he’s smartly toned down some of the, er, performance art, channelling his undoubted vocal/musical abilities into a?for him?sensible, solid, witty rock record.

Those of you who’ve heard the screaming about Hawksley?allegedly the new Prince, Bowie, Buckley, Waits, even, good lord, the new Sparks?may hear the first track here and experience confusion. “We Will Still Need A Song” is powerful and confident, sure, but it’s U2. The voice the guitars?it’s all chests-to-the-wind anthem. But stick in there, because though the standard-issue soaring and by-numbers yearning does reoccur, Lover/Fighter lifts into altogether more original, arresting terrain. When Hawksley?a man, remember, whose last album bore more class in its title alone, (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves, than is contained in most entire oeuvres?lets loose, a snarling pack of Spanish galleons cruise the sunrise behind him. “Even An Ugly Man” is beautiful with lyrical flair; “Anger As Beauty” is (hypnotically) ugly with rage and bravado. Rarely can a song have lived up to its name as precisely as the heartbreaking “Wonderful And Sad.”

Eventually you twig why he’s refrained from the going-over-the-top of previous outings: he’s bang on the brink here, ballet dancing on rims of volcanoes, and the songs crackle with a frisson seldom sensed elsewhere. “Tonight Romanticize The Automobile” both archly comments on and sexily embodies rock’s cars-and-girls clich