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.
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 ….