American singer-songwriter and producer Miguel trades in an intoxicating brand of R&B awash with magnetic sex appeal and an undeniable charisma. While his 2010 debut All I Want Is You eventually became a sleeper success, it was his 2012 sophomore effort, Kaleidoscope Dream, which generated international hype and widespread critical acclaim. Often described as one of the best R&B tracks of the past decade, Adorn in particular identified Miguel as a soul artist, who navigated a sensuality that defined the careers of artists like Marvin Gaye. With his latest effort however, Miguel defines himself as an innovator, producing bold, intoxicating music that disregards genre limitations. With Wildheart the artist finds his strongest boundary-breaking identity, struggling against the thematic and sonic confines of contemporary R&B. While artists like Jeremih and The Weeknd embody the archetype of masculinity perpetuated by hip-hop culture (a narcissistic virility that exclusively privileges male perspective and pleasure), Wildheart sees Miguel explore an opposing positivity and vulnerability; explicit but inclusive narratives set to exciting music.
This long awaited follow up opens immediately with encouragement (“Don’t ever sell yourself short”) over crunchy, emphatic guitars. The imposing tone-setter promises “We’re gonna die young”, romanticising the metaphor of a fatal car crash to urge listeners to live and dream without distracting periphery. The juxtaposition of heavy guitars against Miguel’s almost weightless vocal then launches into the hazy funk of DEAL. It is the celestial, synthesised soundscape of the blush-inducing the valley that then produces one of the album’s most irresistible moments. Its pulsating accompaniment perfectly accompanies the explicit sexual odyssey and psychedelic porn star fantasy that, by either design or accident, examines the porn industry’s distortion of modern sexuality, as the star croons “I’m your pimp, I’m your pope, I’m your pastor, babe/Confess your sins to me while you masturbate.” Lead single Coffee then puts Miguel’s stunning voice on full display, as he playfully sighs about a breakfast in bed scenario. The album version excludes Wale’s explicit addition, instead choosing to unfold with bleary-eyed arousal.
Like the valley is an ode to San Fernando “porn” Valley, with help from rapper Kurupt NWA becomes a tribute to gritty Los Angeles and 90s West Coast gangsta rap. what’s normal anyway is a more introspective analysis of biracial identity in modern America. Docile guitar motifs and synths, set to an impenetrably steady beat, thread through Miguel’s poignant examination, an account of alienation and loneliness that will resonate with many listeners. We can only assume Miguel finds comfort for himself between the sheets. On the sultry exploration of obsession and submission FLESH, Miguel lets his stunning falsetto do all the whimpering and howling. FLESH is an impossibly erotic romp that seemingly drifts through time before the piercing synths of destinado a morir penetrate the sexual haze.
The musical and personal influence of his idols Prince, Freddie Mercury, and Jimi Hendrix is evident throughout the album,but never overwhelming, as Miguel allows his own distinct presence and aesthetic to guide it. His attitude towards sex and gendered identity, while explicit, is refreshing and inclusive. And combined with a varied and hypnotic musical palate, led by fuzzy guitars, funk, and that exceptional voice, Wildheart is a striking and ambitious album that remains both conceptual and carnal.