As a figure in art or art production, the dandy is usually an enervated character, with good reason. Devoting yourself to the exquisite minutiae of sensation and personal presentation is generally a passive pursuit.
But not always. Hawksley Workman's developing pop persona is proof that it's possible to be a dandy with guts. The man who can write a lyric like "we as lovers bloom like lilies in the moonlight" is less likely to murmur his verses than to hurl them at your head in a strident falsetto. He broadcasts his faun-like appetites at the top of his lungs.
Workman's first indie album two years ago established him as a multi-instrumentalist with a veracious talent and a flair for life-drunk romantic imagery. Since then he has hobnobbed with Neil Young, produced a sleek album for Young's Vapor label by the Calgary twins Tegan and Sara, and polished his outsized live act in England, France, and his adoptive hometown of Toronto.
The 11 songs on the new disc are postcards from Workman's continuing tour through the realm of the senses. They sketch out a life lived (in imagination if not in fact) at high speed and in a more or less continual state of urgent desire. "Naked" is the adjective most frequently on his lips.
Striptease and Jealous of Your Cigarette are both jaunty pop tunes about needing attention or getting pouty in its absence. Both reflect Workman's increased assurance in the studio, and his penchant for large, saturated pop sounds. Go big or go home, is his rule. It undermines him in You Me and the Weather, a splashy, vague ditty that functions mainly as a producer's playground and as an occasion for showing off his singularly muscular falsetto.
What a Woman begins in a more mellow baritonal register, before rousing itself into what might be called Workman's transcendental mode. Randy and bouncy as they often are, his songs frequently aspire to an ecstatic condition beyond the sensual. It's only a short hop to the quasi-religious tone of Old Bloody Orange, a slow waltz that resembles an old spiritual. No Beginning No End, the album's other outstanding track, takes a fleshier route to the same destination, with an upward tread in the music that perfectly symbolizes the ascent implied in the lyrics.
But Workman seldom reaches that level of integration between word and sound. Much of the time, he seems to be trying to dazzle through sheer abundance. The crazy baroque energy that animates Dirty and True, a multi-part composition that might have been translated from the Yiddish, also disfigures Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off, which is Workman at his most undisciplined. This delicious wolf remains wild -- although his kind of wildness is still more intriguing than the tamer offerings of many singer-songwriters.