Release Date: Jun 29, 2015
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): R&B, Contemporary R&B
We're gonna die young," Miguel intones on opening track "A Beautiful Exit." This nihilistic statement largely informs Wildheart, the L.A. native's third studio effort. 2012's Kaleidoscope Dream was a fruitful affair, serving to establish the charismatic singer-songwriter's brand and also to prime listeners for his style of R&B — a fearlessly rock-oriented, post-Prince soul that leverages the merest dash of hip-hop, compared to the urban swag sound so dominated by today's R&B/soul landscape.Wildheart is a love letter to his native Los Angeles, confidently exploring the city's contrasts — Hollywood glitz by way of Inglewood grime — across its 13 tracks.
Last year concluded grandly with D'Angelo's long-awaited Black Messiah, an album dropped without warning, in seeming defiance of the sacred traditions of year-end list-making. A stunning collection of majestically constructed prog-soul, its fusion of live instrumentation, multi-tracked vocals, and baroque, religiously tinged songwriting felt both loosely improvisational and impossibly dense, setting a high bar for this year's crop of highbrow slow jams. Six months later, it's easy to make comparisons between D'Angelo and Miguel, a fellow falsetto-inclined crooner also releasing an anticipated third album, sharing a similarly expansive, organically focused aesthetic and a cerebral approach to sexual politics.
As perhaps the last vestige of grown-folks carnality in mainstream music, modern R&B trades in the archetypes of masculinity; sweaty abs and dirty talk pushed by loverboys (Usher) and bad boys (Jodeci). Prince's flamboyance remains one of the biggest exceptions in the genre's long and storied history, and the years since his purple reign are dotted with lonely acolytes: In 2003, André 3000 took a shot at hip-hop's rancorous masculinity—with the help of a smoking pink gun—on his rap-&-B manifesto, The Love Below. Some might say the tension of conforming to one-dimensional manhood contributed to D'Angelo's post-Voodoo unspooling.
When we first heard “Coffee,” now the first single from Miguel’s excellent new album Wildheart, it was part of last December’s three song EP that he put on SoundCloud. All three tracks were great, but “Coffee” stood out for the ingenious way Miguel’s performance, moving effortlessly from offhand, earnest and charming verses to a gorgeous, soaring bridge and then a horny and ultimately lovesick chorus, mirrors the song’s lyrics about the daily cycle of a relationship. On the EP version, the song, which sounded like an instant classic, ended abruptly in a way that made it feel like a demo.
On What’s Normal Anyway – the seventh track on Miguel‘s new album Wildheart – the Californian singer-songwriter laments his position in society’s pecking order: “Too proper for the black kids, too black for the Mexicans / Too square to be a hood nigga … Too opinionated for the pacifist, too out of touch to be in style…”. By the time he gets to the chorus, Miguel has turned the song into an anthem of disaffection that will speak to anyone who’s ever felt socially dislocated. But What’s Normal Anyway also serves as an accurate summary of Miguel’s career to date.
With "Adorn," 2012's sexiest slow jam, Miguel emerged as a mohawk-pompadoured futurist, as rooted in past innovators like Marvin Gaye as in 21st-century production — a soul man with no "neo-" required. Wildheart is an even bolder move: an intoxicating master class in electro-porn R&B — the coin of the modern genre — that's also a soul-searching critique of same. It's a necessary record that should generate plenty of thought, and more than a few babies, too.
Ridiculous as it seems to say, f—king has gotten a bad name in R&B lately. As SPIN’s Chris Martins recently alluded to, for so many of the genre’s leading men, sex is treated like a necessary evil — the Weeknd is haunted by it, Drake is bored and frustrated by it, The-Dream overindulges in it out of rote, joyless habit. (Trey Songz and Chris Brown certainly still seem like fans, but their treatment of it is tasteless and juvenile enough that you kinda wish they’d go flaccid already.
It’s taken Miguel almost three years to follow up breakthrough album Kaleidoscope Dream, a velvet soft collection of forward-thinking R&B that landed him songwriting jobs for Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. The safest route would have been to have made a blockbuster-style sequel, but as Wildheart’s introspective What’s Normal Anyway attests, Miguel has always been “too far out for the in crowd”. Nestled midway through the album, that song’s pin-drop clarity acts a breather from the first half’s swampy psychedelic funk and X-rated jams (The Valley is worth the PG sticker alone), while the second half channels Sign ‘o’ the Times-era Prince, all thrusting guitar riffs and glorious falsetto.
A complete anthology of Miguel's featured appearances released -- or disseminated, as the freaky wordplay lover might call it -- between Kaleidoscope Dream and this would be assorted, to say the least. It would include appearances on a crop of major R&B and rap songs, a cover of Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets," and a highlight turn on Hudson Mohawke's Lantern. A few of the extracurricular moves pointed toward his next solo step, but the clues remained clearest in the darker corners of Kaleidoscope Dream.
Miguel Jontel Pimentel’s third album features a song called What’s Normal Anyway. Over a fragile guitar figure and spectral backing vocals, the 29-year-old singer-songwriter glumly suggests that his uniqueness and individuality prevents him from really fitting in: “too square to be a hood nigger … too out of touch to be in style … too far out for the in-crowd … I’m in a crowd and I feel alone.” Of course, pop stars are always saying things like that about themselves. You can barely move for humblebragging expressions of uniqueness, frequently tumbling from the lips of artists who give every impression of being about as unique as a tube of Pringles.
Much of the appeal of Miguel’s 2012 breakthrough ‘Kaleidoscope Dream’ lay in the way the Los Angeles singer balanced standard-issue R&B lust with psychedelia. ‘Wildheart’ ditches such whimsy in favour of something more rampant. ‘The Valley’’s chorus goes “I want to fuck like we’re filming in the Valley,” while the content of ‘Coffee’ is best revealed by its alternate title: ‘Coffee (Fucking)’.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Miguel's recent output has seen him move further away from the generic R&B that lingers in the charts and between landfill house tracks in nightclubs around the world. Wildheart sees his vision of alt-R&B more realised than ever, although he still falls short of creating a quality cohesive album. Miguel's early tracks like 'Sure Thing' didn't push any boundaries but did highlight his impressive vocal range and ability to craft memorable hooks.
Miguel, a sensual L.A. singer-songwriter sporting coiffed hair and essence-of-Prince stylings, has been on the verge of becoming R&B’s Next Big Thing for almost half a decade now. He came closest in 2012 when his stellar, surprisingly succinct sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream, was met with widespread acclaim from critics, but his rise was momentarily halted by an award show mishap and the controversy that followed.
It’s not that Miguel’s first two albums weren’t notable. In fact, 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream is rather exemplary. It’s not that the self-producing multi-instrumentalist maestro is lacking in personality either. The problem is and always has been that with those first two albums, Miguel was lacking a distinct identity, unsure if he wanted to be a commercially-successful trend chaser or a boundary-breaking avant-soul stylist.
There really is such a thing as being in the right place at the right time. Miguel released his second album, Kaleidoscope Dream, just a few weeks after Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE. Come the end of 2012, Channel ORANGE was sitting near the top of countless album of the year lists, and alternative R&B – a meaningless genre classification if ever there was one – was the sound of the future.
“Wildheart” is the truest definition of Miguel’s new third album. The R&B sensualist has been simmering over the past five years but finally reaches a full-on boil on his latest. When people talk about post-genre music, especially in the modern R&B realm, they’re referring to artists like Miguel, Frank Ocean, and Janelle Monáe, the latter of whom enlisted Miguel for a duet (“Primetime”) on her last album, “The Electric Lady.” Their songs spring not from a style of music, but rather a state of mind.
It was hardly obvious at the time, but R&B crooner Miguel Pimentel’s May 2013 performance on Saturday Night Live heavily foreshadowed the direction of his third album, Wildheart. He transformed the macchiato smooth grooves of “How Many Drinks?” into a freaked-out, short-circuited hard rock head-scratcher. Miguel sang-shouted his vocals, forsaking his characteristically smooth delivery.
Carnality, musical ambition and flickers of conscience have swirled through the songs of Miguel — the Los Angeles songwriter Miguel Jontel Pimentel — since his 2008 “Mischief” EP. “Kaleidoscope Dream,” his second album and commercial breakthrough in 2012, put romance and desire in the foreground for R&B hits like “Adorn,” which hinted at Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and won a Grammy for best R&B song. Yet like Mr.
Hip-hop and R&B have become so intertwined, it's hard to imagine there once was a time when they weren't. Miguel broke out commercially as an R&B heartthrob, but his influences are much wider and encompass classic rock, funk and soul. His third - and best - album moves farther away from beat-oriented R&B toward music that's heavy guitars, sex and hazy Cali vibes.
If 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream, and specifically its smash single “Adorn,” had people thinking Miguel was the latest incarnation of R. Kelly, Wildheart will certainly bring out the Prince comparisons. Wildheart is weirder and more ambitious than its predecessor, an R&B album inflected with bits of prog rock and charged with sexual and racial imagery.