Hawksley Workman

For Him and the Girls

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For Him & the Girls is an incredibly self-assured debut, precisely what makes it so auspicious and part of what makes it flawed. The collection is wildly diverse and exciting, produced by a 24-year-old wunderkind entirely at his home studio and on which he plays almost all the instruments himself. Hawksley Workman's scope of imagination alone is remarkable for its outrageous and acrobatic eccentricities. Even the weaker moments are loaded with ideas and queer paths that he didn't feel the need to follow up on. But Workman can sound like daydreamer one minute, an undiluted genius the next. Or he can simply sound too cute for his own good. Workman's ambitions occasionally get the best of his editing process. This is particularly the case with some of his words. He definitely knows how to turn a nifty phrase. His lyrics frequently come off literate, loopy, and even poetic, sometimes all three in the same line ("You've got pies in the oven all across the sea," he sings on "Bullets," a bewitching ode written about a World War II-era photograph of his grandparents). He is capable of tossed-off epiphanies of surprising poignancy, but he also throws in a few that simply sound tossed-off, such as the chorus on the opening "Maniacs," otherwise a vehicle for Workman's astounding flights of falsetto. Indeed, he proves himself a virtuoso vocalist, perhaps the most staggeringly gifted singer since Jeff Buckley, a frequent comparison. And his musical intuitions are often just as on-target. The album is the work of a chameleon, jumping from jerky declarations of nerd love ("No Sissies") to brooding boho dirges à la Tom Waits ("Tarantulove," "No More Named Johnny") to theatrical glam ditties ("Paper Shoes") that recall that king of magpies, David Bowie. But sweet romantic songs like "Stop Joking Around," "Safe and Sound," and "Baby This Night" sound as if they could only be originating directly from the singer's heart. It is when he strikes such heartrending, naïve notes that the album is at its most moving, as when, like Harry Nilsson and fellow Canadian Rufus Wainwright, he dives into delightfully histrionic music hall tendencies or alluring, if maudlin, Tin Pan Alley balladry ("Sweet Hallelujah"). The reference to Nilsson is most apt. Like that artist's Pandemonium Shadow Show, For Him & the Girls is a showy, extravagant first effort. And although the album is not as good as that landmark, it holds the same sort of dizzying promise. You cannot help but get caught up in the thrill of Workman's flamboyance. It's like watching a brash and quirky magician who only gets his tricks to work some of the time. And as good as this already is, Workman has brilliant albums in him.

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