Miguel's recent declaration that his music is superior to his peer, Frank Ocean's, may have a contingent convinced after listening to 'Wildheart'. On this, the third full-length from the soul singer, he's made a conscious choice to distance himself from the smeared R&B that characterised previous LP 'Kaleidoscope Dreams', and it's a choice that's paid off.
Whilst the results don't always hit the proverbial mark, Miguel's sonic palette this time round is refreshingly idiosyncratic. Now, given that Ocean has only released an EP, and one full-length to date, Miguel's claims may be on the premature side, and a little jarring given his celebration of all the outsiders on album highlight 'what's normal anyway' - a stripped-down affair with a lone guitar strum, an introspective Miguel musing about alienation and the ensuing identity crisis.
Miguel succeeds in breaking convention whilst simultaneously aggregating his influences and experiences, assimilating them into something a little more transparent. Take the defining lyrics on opener 'A Beautiful Exit', "Trust your intuition; you know the plan...conjectures of society", as if he's schooling his younger self. In the hands of another, the notion could be reduced to insipid melodrama, but the jagged electric guitars, coupled with the faded, warped vocals make his intention more immediate and less preachy.
Indeed much of the record is a heady blend of edgy, fuzzed-out guitars, inhabiting some of the retro-funk of James Brown whilst peppering the track with digital flourishes making it a more than just a homage. The triumphant note continues with 'waves', a blissed-out ode to California dreamin', and a perfect soundtrack to long summer nights.
The X-rated content is still on Miguel's agenda, this time multiplied ten-fold. 'The Valley' references the seediness of the Los Angeles porn industry, the pompadoured singer using it as a backdrop to explicit double-entendres, serving as a prelude to the post-sex, morning overflow on 'Coffee'. Yet sex is a commemorative thing to Miguel, the antithesis of The Weeknd's debauchery and narcissism. It's more about relationship-building, than sole male pleasure, a refreshing change from a stale landscape of masculine bravado that clouds the genre.
You can hear the work Miguel put into making 'Wildheart' a true assertion of his growth as an artist. The production is expansive and layered, never resting on its laurels. The use of falsetto is evocative, never ostentatious. The jury's out on whether Miguel's offerings as a whole are indeed superior to Ocean's, for now he should be content that they share a space at the pinnacle of genre-defining pop music.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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