Wildheart – Miguel (2015)

Wildheart album cover

Miguel is one of those R&B stars whose talent has transcended the genre expectations of urban radio. Some of his diversity stems from his Mexican-Afro-American heritage. That experience influences his lyrical point of view while musically he creates pop rolled into an R&B shell. Wildheart seems to suggest that Miguel is exploring the same territory that Maxwell did in Embrya.  Embrya was a kind of Afro- Neo Psychedelic soul. Wildheart takes a harder path in route to the same ideal, but shows the influence of 21st century multiculturalism.

For that alone Miguel to be commended. It’s refreshing to hear R&B artists who’s cultural influences are not limited to stereotypical black motifs. Nearly everyone knows that the American brown diaspora is not limited to just American Black people – everyone except the American music industry it seems.

R&B like this might have been considered “alternative” a decade ago. With a similar musical approach as Van Hunt or Bilal, Miguel has noticeable alternative rock influences in his music. Unlike those artists, he has managed to keep some of his edge while scoring major hits on the pop, dance and R&B charts.

As a writer Miguel wrote for many others for quite some time before finally releasing his own music. That head start has made him appear refined right out of the gate lyrically. Three interesting albums later, Miguel has in many ways fulfilled his role as the next Usher or Chris Brown. So far  jumping off stages and beating up girlfriends has not been a trait of his, so he might be a far more likable personality to a wider audience. Increasingly that audience includes adults who can appreciate his sophisticated approach to pop and varied influences.

Wildheart is 16 tracks of Miguel trying various genres on for size while accessorizing them with R&B. Much like his debut conceptually, but more refined in execution. The album opens with a vaguely ’60s-ish sounding “A Beautiful Exit” with a wonderful chorus chanting the dark lyric ‘were gonna die young’. While it’s probably not the kind of lyric that inspires due to its timely message about black males and violence, the arrangements are bright and somewhat anthem-like.

This is the kind of refined irony is no longer typical of rap and most R&B music designed for kids. Influences from indie rock are rare, but people like Rihanna and Beyonce are making it more acceptable in R&B.  Miguel has been pushing those buttons for much of his career and manages to tie it together more seamlessly on Wildheart than on Kaleidoscope Dream and All I Want is You.

Indie rock influences are not always apparent, but the sense of gloom often employed in rock is. Retro songs like the dark “..Goingtohell” are indicative of a slight tint of gloom that informs many of the songs. Van Hunt, Blial and D’Angelo have all moved their music in this direction.

Miguel actually has one of the better voices in R&B today, but Wildheart does not showcase it quite like his debut did a few years ago. The track “Hollywood Dreams” is one of the few places where Miguel’s voice is allowed to soar. Lenny Kravitz appears on “Face The Sun”, a track where the two create a wonderful background harmony behind Kravitz guitar playing.

The albums only single “Coffee” must have been a calculated choice as a pop song because it barely cracked the R&B top 30 while it ever made the Billboard Top 50 singles. Ironically, the album was far more successful; proving that grown up music is not always best released as singles as in the old R&B model.

Miguel has everything in place to become the next whatever. Hopefully his sophistication will encourage other R&B artists move away from rap as a crutch for sales. With that wave slowly dying anyway, Miguel is poised to usher (pun not intended) in a new age in R&B.


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