It’s a truly wonderful moment when that suburban white kid who started writing soul music because he felt like it gets his heart broken. Properly. Because let’s be frank, as someone who regularly claims that an assortment of women have ruined his life when in fact it’s usually a gigantic over exaggeration, I can confirm that you only really get the chance to be screwed over for real a few times unless you’re very unlucky or . Everyone marks these devastating instances differently, but those blue-eyed hip-hop aficionados who write entire records full of this stuff are just plain lying – that, or every song is about the same romantic subject. Credit to John Legend, who decided to subvert the formula by cheating on untold numbers of honeys and then writing despairing tunes about how it was their fault, buy not everyone has cajones that big. At about track five on his second LP, our friendly neighborhood Hawthorne gets seriously fucked over. And he’s not happy about it. But I am, because the song is superb.
Mayer Hawthorne’s schtick was always a bit hard to swallow for those of us outside the coveted Stone’s Throw world where everything makes perfect sense as part of Peanut Butter Wolf’s grand Rick Rubin-esque plan for complete Sunday afternoon socials domination. Where ‘Maybe So, Maybe No’, and their ilk paved the way for the rougher blokes like Plan B on the other side of the Atlantic and Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed closer to home (to be fair, Reed had been at it way longer), the arrangements always seemed more believable than the man singing over them, ironic given that Hawthorne famously wrote and played every note on the original demos which got him signed. The material was certainly there and so too was the inclination, but it grooved more than it gripped, and the more upbeat numbers disappeared into that black whole that has progressively swallowed every Motown-aping shuffle since ‘Valerie‘.
But lo and behold, Hawthorne is still bringing the sunny chords, the falsetto backing vocals but now he’s mad as hell. ‘Baby what you doin’ now,” he drawls in an octave unusually low by his standards,’You’re pissing me off.’ So I’m all like, ‘Whoa man, when did you decide to stand up for yourself?’ Suddenly we’re looking at a great piece of writing that actually has emotional depth beyond the regular rhyming couplets and the swagger to match. In a particularly emboldened move, Hawthorne is perfectly at ease describing how incredibly babin’ his heartbreaker is, taking great pains to detail her lips, her hair, her skin and most patently, her legs (‘And you can walk those high heels baby right out of my life’), which is usually what these girls are, amirite? It turns the concept that white boys can’t emote pain on its head and the delicious horn popping in the chorus drive the whole thing home. It’s almost like his debut album was when the bright lights were on and the cameras were rolling, and this is the morning after when he hasn’t brushed his teeth and his tie is all askew on his rumpled white shirt and she of the high heels is definitely screening his calls. Brilliant stuff.
Mayer Hawthorne – ‘The Walk’