Good old Hawksley Workman is something of a Canadian institution by now. Not in an international sense, perhaps, like maple syrup or moose, but certainly on his own patch, like The Tragically Hip, Roots clothing or George Stromboulopoulos.
Meat is the 11th disc in an increasingly prolific career, and Workman – or Ryan Corrigan to his mum – shows no signs of slowing: he released two LPs in 2008, and Meat is already augmented by the additional 12 tracks of a special edition, Meat/Milk. The man clearly doesn’t want for ideas – and never has – but are they any good?
After the comparative peace and quiet of former releases like Treeful Of Starling and Between The Beautifuls, Meat is a typical Hawksley Workman LP in the sense that it is atypical. In fact, one need look no further than opening duo Song For Sarah Jane and French Girl In LA; the former a bare, maudlin piano hymn, the latter a fuzzy, crashing romp that wouldn’t sound out of place on his 1999 debut For Him And The Girls.
And while there’s an early concern that Meat flits between genres just because it can, Workman’s deft touch provides the saving grace. Chocolate Mouth, for instance, updates his trademark cabaret style to irresistible ends, while Tobias Froberg collaboration Depress My Hangover Sunday’s minimal blues provide the idea foil for Hawksley’s inimitable raw tones.
And the virtues continue: (The Happiest Day I Know Is A) Tokyo Bicycle, while a guilty pleasure in the Young Folks, lowest-common-denominator mould, is a pleasure nonetheless; Vampire Bats’ gritty-stomp-come-tuneful-progression deserves greater precedence than its footnote-type placing in the running order allows.
For every virtue, however, a vice exists: Baby Mosquito has a fans-only quality, its charm more than matched by its comparative anonymity; You Don’t Just Want To Break Me, at eight proggy minutes long, is a fair idea indulged to the nth degree; And The Government Will Protect The Mighty’s bruising synth fuzz doesn’t so much revisit former Workman glories as it does repackage and resell them, neglecting the opportunity to tweak or revise.
And while confusion surrounding the album’s special edition doesn’t help – is Milk bonus material or an LP in its own right? – the overriding impression is that Meat’s milky accompaniment exhibits a more developed, consistent and inspired streak that ultimately serves to cast doubt on its sibling’s marquee status.
Judged solely on its own merits, Meat is the work of an artist whose creative wanderlust has helped and hindered a career: even when Hawksley Workman is below par, there are diamonds in the rough that betray a fierce and vibrant bohemian spirit. By the same token, however, even the best of his work is dotted with the odd jarring or forgettable number. Meat is somewhere in-between.