When a friend of mine introduced me to ‘A Strange Arrangement,’ the debut album by Mayer Hawthorne, I remember being pleasantly surprised at his sound. It had a Motown vibe to it, which made sense to me when I found out later that Mayer was from Ann Arbor, Michigan and had spent a bit of time in Detroit. After hearing a few of his songs, I began going to other friends of mine and sharing his music with them. I didn’t receive a bit of negative feedback.
It seemed that Mayer Hawthorne had something special, something music needed at the time back in ’09. The sound was unique, and it continued with his following record ‘How Do You Do.’ It was after the release of that album that he would “make it big” after Kanye West shared via his personal blog one of Mayer’s music videos. This led to a lot of exposure and a number of people anxiously awaiting what Mayer Hawthorne would do next. With ‘Where Does This Door Go,’ the wait is over.
So things have changed a bit here. ‘Where Does This Door Go’ begins with something I’d never heard on a Mayer Hawthorne record before: a skit. There are 3 or 4 brief ones on ‘Where Does This Door Go’ and they aren’t really a big deal. For me, the first one coupled with the first song “Back Seat Lover” was just a sign that Mayer would be expanding his sound this time around.
A large portion of this album (even the extra 5 songs that come packaged with the deluxe edition) is more lively and up-tempo than the previous albums. It sounds more accessible and intended for a larger audience. He can’t really be faulted for that because he’s drawn a lot of attention to himself since starting out his career with Stones Throw Records. The second song, “The Innocent” reminds me of something I’d hear from The Police. “Allie Jones” comes with a thick hip-hop break-beat and background vocals added in to sound like they’re sampled (which is fine…Mayer is also a part-time rapper that goes by the name ‘Haircut’).
All of this is foreign to me; It sounds great, but a little out of pocket. We’ve all had to adjust to changes some of our favorite artists make that leave us missing the things they used to do. I have to admit I experienced that a bit with ‘Where Does This Door Go,’ but again, it sounds great. Mayer Hawthorne knows his way around a studio, and is known for not only his vocals, but his engineering, production, and instrumental talents, so all of these changes weren’t incidental. It makes sense of the album title to a degree: you could say the rapidly abounding fan-base he’s come upon has brought about a little uncertainty regarding his direction going forward.
“Wine Glass Woman,” produced by Pharrell Williams, sounds like something from the early days of Justin Timberlake’s solo career (he also worked with Pharrell at that time); “Her Favorite Song” has the same vibe. This middle section of the album is my favorite and it finishes stronger than it began. I also have to point out Kendrick Lamar’s appearance on “Crime.” This is the song that completed the package for me. Like most tracks on ‘Where Does This Door Go,’ it sounds more modern and “un-Motown” than anything I’ve heard on Mayer Hawthornes previous releases, but “Crime” reaffirmed my confidence that he knows what he’s doing. Also, add another point in the win column for Kendrick Lamar. He continues to steal the show with any song he’s featured on. Aside from background vocalists, Kendrick is the only big-ticket featured artist on this one.
I’d encourage fans of Mayer Hawthorne’s previous work to stick around with this latest release. I guess his first two albums are so amazing to me that I would’ve been pleased with “A Strange Arrangement 2.0” or a “How Do You Do: The Remixes.” Instead, we get an album that may not set itself apart as much sound-wise, but a lot more people can enjoy. I believe it’s a smart move for his sake and there’s enough of his personality still here to make me believe none of this was influenced by a record exec trying to gouge for a few more dollars. ‘Where Would This Door Go’ is solid on its own merits and at the end of the day, that’s how we’re supposed to accept new music. This door is leading Mayer down a good path for sure. It’s just a different one.