Miguel has a lot of incredible qualities: world-class singer, inventive guitarist, skilled songwriter and that jawline. Another is his willingness to commit to an aesthetic direction, even if it’s not the obvious path. Put another way, Miguel has the vision, ability and confidence to follow his muse, wherever it might go. Not every artist does.
He established himself with three hit singles from his hip-hop-influenced 2010 album All I Want Is You, but followed that with 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream, a near-perfect album of fuzzy future-soul jams. One of those jams (“Adorn”) pushed Miguel to new heights on the pop charts. Rather than remake Kaleidoscope Dream, however, he then released 2015’s Wildheart, an album heavy with rock ‘n’ roll guitars and hard edges.
Now, Miguel is back with his fourth full-length, War & Leisure, and again, he’s going his own way. Not that it’s that different from his past work—this is not Miguel’s country record or anything—but it does find the man in a brighter, breezier place, generally speaking.
You can hear it in songs like “Pineapple Skies,” a horizon-wide pop wonder built on a taut bass line and tropical synths in which Miguel promises his lady that everything will be alright “while we Stevie Wonder through the night.” Then there’s “Skywalker,” a sprightly, shirtless celebration of shot-takin’, wave-catchin’, hater-wildin’ good times. As the album’s first single, it caught most Miguel stans off guard, and worried some. (It’s a grower, though.)
“Come Through and Chill” is a sexy lullaby with a freestyle vibe and a silky chorus, plus a J. Cole feature. “Banana Clip” juxtaposes guns, terror and “Korean missiles in the sky” with a warm and wobbly instrumental. And “Caramelo Duro” is an irresistible slice of lite-funk ear candy soaked in Latin influence. Most of its lyrics are delivered in Spanish, but a few English lines provide insight into its meaning: “Put that pink starburst on my brain / running through your candy lane.” Heeeyy, wait a minute … I don’t think this song is actually about confections!
Indeed, Miguel, never afraid to sing of carnal pleasure, is in, perhaps, his randiest mood yet on War & Leisure. Sexual urges consume every word of “Wolf,” a throwback blues tune that underlines his stylistic range. “Harem” is a pretty, pillowy invitation to join Miguel’s copulation crew. And “Anointed,” a slinky ballad with psychedelic embellishments, blurs the line between the sexual and the spiritual.
Most notable here are two tracks: “Told You” is probably War & Leisure’s peak, a nugget of Prince-ish electro-funk that charges hard and never loses steam. And the closer, “Now,” finds Miguel dipping his toe into political observation. He sings of walls and freedom, police violence and common ground, Puerto Rico, Flint, Standing Rock and Dreamers. After 11 tracks of carefree sex jams, it’s good to hear the guy stretching himself into a different direction.
That’s something Miguel has always done, sonically speaking. And he always sounds amazing doing it; that hasn’t changed on War & Leisure. Here’s hoping that next time, he follows the socially conscious path opened up by “Now” to see where it takes him.