Album Review: Miguel, ‘Wildheart’
Miguel’s new album, Wildheart, represents the end of the first phase of his career.
He's always been savvy at positioning himself in the musical landscape. His first album, 2010's All I Want Is You, was full of slick, radio-ready R&B. But he quickly realized that commercial R&B isn’t treated with the critical respect of other genres – a fact that has little to do with the quality of music. On top of that, it’s hard to get R&B hits because rap (Drake), mainstream pop (Justin Timberlake), and electronic music (Disclosure) all borrow R&B’s styling and delivery regularly so much that its impact is diluted.
Miguel adapted immediately, setting himself apart by charting a path towards rock. As the rest of mainstream R&B merges more and more with hip-hop, Miguel was suddenly a guitar-heavy army of one. His second album, 2012's Kaleidoscope Dream, still contained some hints of the singer’s origins – notably on the single, “Adore." But on Wild Heart, Miguel is all rock star: every word drips with swagger and self-belief imported from a bygone era when rock still ruled the world. Kick drums and riffs are smeared and swathed in echo for maximum impact.
For all the sternness in his guitars, Miguel treats the instrument like a bludgeon – all brute force and unsympathetic power. He knows when to slather vocal harmonies and fly towards jubilant hooks. And when he takes off, so does Wildheart. But this happens intermittently: “A Beautiful Exit” is reverential and hammering while “…goingtohell” is blissfully uncaring. Most notable is “Coffee,” which has been floating around the internet for months. It’s an ode to domestic happiness and it's Miguel’s finest blend of tenderness and pyrotechnics.
But much of Wildheart is restrictively single-minded. The singer only works in one mode and the guitars batter the same heavy riffs. When Lenny Kravitz appears on the album’s final track, it makes perfect sense: it's an explicit nod to the sort of sunglasses-and-leather, riff-fried cool that Miguel wants as his own. Miguel has conquered this corner (though he’s been mostly unopposed) and been co-signed by its former king. But Kravitz hasn’t had a hit in this mode since 2000. And unless Miguel wants that same career trajectory, he will soon need to reposition himself again.