Mayer Hawthorne is back. After a three-year hiatus that saw him working on various other projects, Hawthorne has produced an album full to the brim with groovy disco, Hall and Oates meets Steely Dan-esque yacht rock and retro soul, an influence that was missing on his last album, Where Does This Door Go?
The album opens with a whirl of acapella vocals on title track ‘Man About Town’, before Hawthorne blasts into the album’s first single, ‘Cosmic Love’; a laid-back slow jam that sounds like something straight out of the mid-seventies. Hawthorne croons about a star-crossed love affair over a swirl of synth lines, laid-back drums and piano stabs, and boy does it get your hips swivelling. The next track, ‘Book of Broken Hearts’, takes the listener in a different direction to ‘Cosmic Love’. ‘Book of Broken Hearts’ is a yacht rock-twinged disco tune, infusing rock-influenced guitars, a more up-tempo groove and horn pads while Hawthorne sings about a love affair gone wrong. ‘Broken Hearts’ is the first taste of the old-school sound Hawthorne is revisiting on this album: the next track, ‘Breakfast In Bed’, is a retro-soul banger that really incorporates the old school soul sound whilst still sounding new and fresh. Featuring slinky guitar, thumping drums, horn figures and a string of arrangements, ‘Breakfast In Bed’ wouldn’t be out of place on Hawthorne’s debut album, or on a record put out by the Daptone label for that matter.
The retro-soul trend continues on ‘Lingerie & Candlewax’, where Hawthorne adds elements of disco to this track with four to the floor bass, piano stabs and some smart call-and-response between his vocals and the back-up singers to create a really lush late-70s vibe, and is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album. I really liked where the album was going at this midway point: it hit every sweet spot, and had a great balance between soul, funk and rock. That was, until the next track, ‘Fancy Clothes, came on. I just can’t get around the reggae vibes with programmed drums and the 80s distorted guitar. It all sounds really out of place, considering the tracks that came before it on the album. It could’ve been a really great rock song in the vein of The Police, but it just doesn’t do it for me. The start of ‘The Valley’ had me worried as well, but the track shifts into next gear with ’80s sounding keys and simple drums, turning the song into an up-tempo yacht rock banger. ‘The Valley’ and the next track, ‘Love Like That’, would fit right in on the Miami Vice soundtrack. They’re groovy, well produced and introduce a new element to Hawthorne’s sound.
‘Love Like That’ is by far my favourite track on the album. Funky, groovy and featuring one of the best choruses I’ve heard in a while, this song was the only thing I listened to for a week. It had me in a trance, and I couldn’t get it out of my head no matter how hard I tried! The next track on the album, ‘Get You Back’, has to be my second favourite. Hawthorne’s vocals are vivid, relatable and really speak to the listener whilst he asks if he’s really got a chance at winning back his girl. The vocals saunter over smooth guitar and beautiful string arrangements, and the melody is really catchy. The album closes with ‘Out Of Pocket’, a cool track, but nothing super special or memorable. It’s there, you’re listening to it, and then it’s gone without leaving a defining impression on you. It’s a disappointing end to what is a good album.
‘Man About Town’ is soulful, funky and rocky all at once without overdoing it. It is a good album, but it seems the edgier material is saved for Hawthorne’s side projects. The range of influences drawn from and the strength of the songwriting and musicianship make it enjoyable and fun, but it’s not a groundbreaking album, and that’s okay.
Man About Town is available now via Vagrant Records/Cooking Vinyl Australia.