There's a perverse sort of fascination watching an artist who received substantial early plaudits piddle away his critical goodwill with a series of puzzling follow-up releases. Even looking at Lover-Fighter from the perspective of a fan, it's hard to know what Hawksley Workman was thinking with some of the heavy-handed production choices, though. Right off the bat, "We Will Still Need a Song" -- by any other measure a classic Workman song -- is polished to a glassy sheen more reminiscent of U2 than Workman, a situation that's also true with the first single "Anger as Beauty." That's not to say that either of them are particularly bad songs, but there's something oddly generic about them, which is why this is such a frustrating release: Workman has already proven that he's capable of releasing unique material, both lyrically and musically, while still having pop appeal, and the glossy 80s-style production seems misplaced both in terms of necessity -- it's most certainly not necessary -- but also in terms of style -- why pick a sound this dated? It's also worth noting that lyrically there's a certain repetitiveness here; Workman name-checks whiskey on three separate songs (four if you count the hidden bonus tracks) and talks about being drunk on three others (though thankfully not on the two songs about automobiles). Scattered throughout the album are the more subdued and thoughtful numbers you expect on a Workman release: "Wonderful and Sad," "The Future Language of Slaves," and the official album-closer "Autumn's Here," which, despite the horn and string section, still seems more restrained than the big ol' rock numbers. The enhanced portion of the CD features a video on the making of the album, which gives a much more natural view of Workman the person, rather than playing up Workman the rock star. It's a much more appealing persona and it's too bad there wasn't more of that side of Workman in the music.
by Sean Carruthers