It's not readily apparent what the most impressive thing is about Miguel's new LP Wildheart. The fact that he produced most of this fuzzy, yet smooth, blunt but sultry affair is laudable. It's not a common occurrence with R&B artists. So you almost want to award bonus points to Miguel for how cinematic he makes the guitar crunch sound in opener "A Beautiful Exit." Each chord recounts those pivotal scenes when a hero goes rushing headlong into the abyss. That's not Miguel's voice. It's distant and feathery, floating behind the static-painted wall. An ideal foil to such immediate heaviness.
Praise too is due to his sense of pacing. He's wise enough to place the sobering "What's Normal Anyway?" and "Hollywood Dreams" right next to each other. The former essentially focuses on the struggles of an African-American/Mexican-American man, who listens to John Lennon and Biggie, to find his peer group. "Too proper for the black kids, too black for the Mexicans, too square to be a hood n****, what's normal anyway?" he painfully wonders aloud while strumming his guitar. In the latter we see the same man, still struggling, also forced to find a career in the cutthroat labyrinth of Los Angeles. Sex is a welcome salve, and a joyful distraction as we learn throughout the album, though it's tinged with regret in the Tame Impala meets Ginuwine number.
With that expert pacing we experience the carefree highs of love making in the thinly veiled "Waves," which brings to mind disco-era Marvin Gaye and has nothing to do with riding a surfboard. Then we crash a few songs later as Miguel wails over the sparse ripples and shaky percussion of "Leaves." Romance is a strange thing because the amount of time spent in it doesn't really matter. One night can matter as much as one decade depending on a person's perspective. So we have no idea how long Miguel and his female companion were around each other, there's only visceral singing to go off of.
Which is another element of Wildheart that should get a standing O, Miguel's singing. He doesn't quite have the piercing, Jacksonian falsetto of The Weeknd or Frank Ocean's supreme control, where he can cut off lines in an instant. His voice is often so affective because it drifts. A simple line like "I don't care," stands out in "...GoingtoHell." You're hanging with the thought to see where it goes and then it's gone in a haze of bass thumps and synth squiggles. There's no resolution, no pay off. "Coffee," the first single and closest comparison to the heavenly "Adore," continually promises ecstasy while focusing on the everyday. His voice is soft enough you'd think he's recording from under a bedsheet. And he never really throws it off. He threatens to once or twice with a wail but he goes right back to "tongue kissing and pillow talk." No need to ruin a good morning for the sake of a good ending.
Others will give Miguel credit for his sly social consciousness. "We're gonna die young," might simply be a piecing of an overarching narrative about being in love and under 30, it could be about being black and getting killed before 30. The aforementioned "What's Normal Anyway?" is an ideal fit for a year where we can have intellectual discussions about race and gender identity.
I'm not entirely sure how interested Miguel is in anything political though. Wildheart is an album about love. About the way it can make your heart race, your blood boil, your knees weak and your eyes water. We see how beautiful and ugly it can all be. Sex is shown in focus so we can see that femininity and masculinity don't matter, enjoyment does. And those two things are intertwined but not always. Love doesn't have to be eternal, impermanence is okay. If we applaud Miguel for doing anything, we should applaud him for teaching us that.