Release Date: Dec 1, 2017
Record label: RCA
Miguel's ascent into the position of freaky-deaky, celestial sex mystic has been inevitable. Prince Rogers Nelson paved this path so guys like Miguel could thrive, and in Prince's absence the parallels between the two are even starker and more urgent: a rich voice and richer songwriting extolling eroticism as a balm to heal the vicissitudes of our time and get through this thing called life. Flange and echo pedals are their shared sensual vessels.
When Miguel lamented inequality and its manifestations on the closing track of Kaleidoscope Dream, it seemed forced, heartfelt as it was, like the singer was reaching to display some depth. It didn't help that the penultimate number was "Pussy Is Mine." After the sleazier Wildheart, his second Top Five album, human rights issues naturally fueled Miguel's writing to a greater extent, as heard on War & Leisure. Although direct references to various intensifying issues are saved for the sparse finale "Now" -- in which police brutality, immigration, polluted water, and inadequate disaster relief all get time -- the majority of these songs are at least loosely inspired by the distressed climate.
The pre-release narrative of War & Leisure was that it would be Miguel's “comeback” album—a bid to regain some of the mainstream R&B clout he'd lost with 2015's widely acclaimed but commercially underperforming Wildheart. Certainly that narrative was supported by “Sky Walker,” the catchy but insubstantial lead single pairing Miguel with rapper and AutoTuned yelp auteur Travis Scott. It's further borne out by the album's opening track, “Criminal,” which finds the seductive singer trying on a harder persona before handing over the mic to mafioso-rap stalwart Rick Ross.
What, exactly, does Miguel want? Listening to the lusty slow jams that make up fourth album 'War & Leisure', you'd be forgiven for thinking this loverman mainly wants a nice cuddle. It wasn't always this way, though. Speaking to NME this week, the musician explained that critically lauded 2015 album 'Wildheart' said "something about what I stand for", but lacked commercial success.
H aving dropped acid on to his R&B sugar cube for his previous album, Wildheart, giving it a richly psychedelic flavour, Miguel continues his trip to create some of the most imaginative pop music around. The production is exceptional, with distorted guitars and ambient noise offset by whip-crack drum programming; moments of pure body-high pleasure, like Travis Scott's Auto-Tuned arrival on Skywalker, the Latin strut of Caramelo Duro or the Prince-level funk of Told You So, are surrounded by murky idiosyncrasies. The tropical lope of Banana Clip is so brilliantly realised it makes Miguel's nudge-wink metaphors about shooting firearms seem like the height of sophistication, even romance.
The sexual has always been political for Miguel, the leading ambassador for sex-positive crossover R&B. Over three albums of innovative electro-funk, the singer-songwriter-producer has proven himself a true Prince disciple, casting potential partners not as objects - but as agents - of desire. But on War & Leisure, Miguel's one-track mind is invaded by external forces - powerful men hellbent on maintaining a violent status quo - and he's not turning up the slow jams to drown out the tweets.
The L.A. soul explorer's fourth album creates a space where psych-funk splendor coexists with deep anxiety. It's not all downers: "Pineapple Skies" punctuates its bubbly synths with speaker-rattling bass hits, as Miguel's amped-up vocals make his "everything gonna be all right" exhortations feel ….
I came to set you free. I don't want to condescend to Miguel as a black artist by generalizing his influences, as his live performances just as well fuse '70s cock rock theatrics with early '80s synth funk pomposity, but the most analogous historical comparison to War & Leisure is Marvin Gaye's What's Going On; a political, sexual, musical revolution, equal parts statement and soulful pop music. Although only tangentially linked to Gaye's previously well known lyrical tropes, What's Going On successfully redefined him as an artist when Motown wanted hit makers; with that album though, Motown got both, and Gaye didn't have to compromise what he stood for, or what made his music appealing in order to do it.
Miguel continues his loose jaunt down the idiosyncratic path carved out on the sun-soaked, California-loving 'Wildheart'. Indeed, the arrival of his fourth LP 'War & Leisure', in the midst of Winter, is quite possibly intentional, a retroactive visage of a summer-driven record, a carousal of breezy nostalgia -- think surf-rock flourishes, Marvin Gaye soul-funk and soft psychedelia. On 'War & Leisure', Miguel offsets political overtures with a rhythmic energy that gives the record a defiant and celebratory feel, never beholden to mawkish politicking.
"The Visitor " Neil Young & Promise of the Real The question was never if Neil Young would release an anti-Trump record, but when. "The Visitor" reunites Young with the Lukas Nelson-led band Promise of the Real for a collection of protest songs that reaffirm his well-documented passion for the environment and communal activism. The record alternates between Crazy Horse-style rockers and gentle acoustic folk, though as always Young throws a few curveballs.
This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, with lead single “Sky Walker” the complete opposite sort of music that I want Miguel to make, replete with a frat house party-catering music video that looked like there was a conscious decision to make up for the loss of sales between Kaleidoscope Dream (535,000 units sold) and Wildheart (65,000 units sold). Reaching #35 on the US charts, I guess it worked (“Coffee” merely reached #78 for some reason). The opening song began interestingly enough, with chords that sounded like they were lifted straight out of a Modest Mouse song from The Moon & Antarctica.