Beautiful but boring. That’s how I feel about Miguel on ‘War and Leisure’, his fourth studio album release and his newest work since Wildheart which dropped in 2015. ‘War and Leisure’ as a project gives me mixed vibes. Usually the thought of Miguel will always be associated, for me, with the sweet intoxication of sexual, intimate vibes.
Miguel doesn’t make a beat for his music, he makes music for his beats….if you get what I’m saying. That’s why this 32-year old venturing more into an appraisal of the current political climate and highlighting his major personal growth as an artist on tracks like ‘Come Through and Chill’ featuring J.Cole, ‘Sky Walker’ featuring Travis Scott, ‘Caramelo Duro’ featuring Kali Uchis, ‘Banana Clip’ and ‘City of Angels’ felt a far cry from the same guy that made the iconic baby-making tune ‘Adorn’ on Kaleidoscope Dream.
At every point, Miguel’s vocals seem to arrive effortlessly and his vocal ability is not something one can easily dispute. The soft warble of ‘Harem’, the crooning ‘Now’, the upbeat sexual energy on ‘Caramelo Duro’ prove that he remains as talented as ever with an incomparable vocal range. However, much like the album cover which portrays Miguel floating above sandy dunes, he seems very distant from the music he makes.
Despite describing the album as a ‘personal struggle to find our way in the middle of it all- stay positive but be mindful’ to MTV News, it’s hard to appreciate his emotional investment in the album. Despite waiting almost two years before dropping this album in a similar manner to the long wait we endured from Frank Ocean, War & Leisure is different to the well thought-out and provocative in production, vocals, and lyricism of ‘Blonde’ (and Endless too). This album seems to try too hard to please old fans, new fans, and a new socio-political climate. That’s not to say there aren’t gems present.
‘Caramelo Duro’ is, in Miguel’s own admission, his first majority Spanish song. An Afro-Mexican, he decides to collaborate with the immensely talented Kali-Uchis who is a Colombian-American artist with a similar indie-rnb sound. The result is a magical tune that really stands out amongst the 12 tracks on the album, pushing the sensual metaphors that Miguel loves to explore in his music but also delivering an original rocky, funky sound.
For an album titled ‘War & Leisure’ this song manages to escape aggression or laziness to deliver pure sweetness. ‘Dulce, dulce, dulce, dulce,’ is the introduction to the track, translating as ‘sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet’ which it may innocuously appear but is far from the reality. Passionate sexual intensity inhabits the song, which despite a different sound to old Miguel 2000’s RnB albums, is definitely a theme and vibe he enjoys playing with.
‘Caramelo Duro’ means hard candy. In this case, a ‘pink starburst’ that Miguel doesn’t mind ‘on my brain’ as long as he’s ‘running through your candy lane’. The meaning is not lost on listeners who may not understand his Spanish but hopefully appreciate his euphemism ‘Regálame un poco de azúcar,’ (give me some sugar).
‘Come Through and Chill’ featuring J.Cole is much better than the original. With a slow guitar riff and beautifully simplistic jazzy beat in the background, the song is the ultimate vibe. The previous version minus Cole’s verse came out last summer and details the very relatable desire to secure your girl (or guy) and just spend a relaxed, intimate day at home. Working, studying, and just living can be hectic and especially in times of ‘unusual rain and thunder’, sometimes it’s so much more satisfactory to copy the chorus and just ‘f… all night’. You know?
Few artists can combine sharp political analysis and a discussion on love and lust in the same bars, but J.Cole can. Acknowledging his obsession with a girl from his past but concerned he might upset her man “‘specially ‘if he’s a fan”, Cole suffers the same struggle as everyone who has ever tried to pop up to an old link, ‘I’m in your town fiendin’ for another round
I was countin’ down the days.’ Damn, Cole don’t play yourself. And if she’s “been on my mind like Kaepernick kneelin’”, she’s deffo the one.
‘Sky Walker’ featuring Travis Scott was released as a single before the album dropped. The indie rock feeling with a trap beat exhibited a far more 2017 sound than people were expecting and rightfully so as the song felt very commercially oriented. A repetitive chorus of ‘cap and a stem, catch a wave on us (splish)/Take a shot, make a friend, just enjoy the moment/I’m Luke Skywalkin’ on these haters (splish)/Celebrate every day like a birthday’ didn’t particularly impress me lyrically and to be honest, didn’t impress my ears either. For a song meant to essentially capture the essence of the album, it was underwhelming thematically and instead of doing what ‘Nikes’ did for ‘Blonde’ by Frank Ocean, instead it kinda depressed expectations.
What if I told you a song could make you sell your soul? Hopefully you’d be very skeptical and concerned about my question but after listening to ‘Told You So’, you’d think again. The silver-tongued playful lyrics on a 80s funky beat sound prophetic and they will cost you, because ‘every pleasure you taste has its price, babe’ as Miguel would say.
The world we live in is dark and sombre. An open bigot inhabits the White House and everyday persecutes us of brown or black pigmentation while nations around the globe rush towards xenophobia, violence and discrimination. ‘Now’ by Miguel is the last song on the album but the only one where he raises his own voice in defiance of the world’s ills. He questions America’s values in this time where power chases ‘the innocent and shoot them down’. ‘Is that the look of freedom?’ Miguel offers a slow but purposeful track that challenges the new ‘CEO of the Free World’ and closes the album beautifully on a note of hope.
‘We are the sound of Freedom.’ If that is true; is this album included? A powerful project with stand-out tunes that offer a beautiful narrative of simplicity, passion and defiance. It’s easy to love this album but I will not love the many songs: ‘Wolf’, ‘Harem’, ‘Anointed’ and ‘Sky Walker’ etc, which were over-commercialised filler.