War & Leisure (released December 1, 2017)
Seconds into “Criminal,” the first track on Miguel’s fourth album War & Leisure, we get a lot of insight into the brain of one of the game’s most eclectic artists:
“Got a mind full of TNT/I need a lunatic just like me … I got a mind like Columbine/A vigilante, I’m volatile.”
Just when you think you’ve got the answers, Miguel changes the questions. But there’s always a method to his madness.
After the release of his celebrated 2012 sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream, many fans christened him the savior of R&B – the artist destined to lead the once-mighty genre back to the promised land. But Miguel quickly took a sharp left turn with his rock-infused follow-up Wildheart. It was a jarring change of direction for some, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great ride.
Don’t expect Miguel to make a U-turn on War & Leisure, either. Miguel’s content on expanding his sound and he’s loves to keep us guessing.
First single “Sky Walker” is an immediate change of pace – a trap-inspired cut that distinguishes itself with strong songwriting and genuine catchiness. It quickly sets itself apart from the millions of imitators. “Pineapple Skies” is a taste of pop perfection, lightening the mood with finger snaps and a brimming optimism as he and his girl “Stevie Wonder through the night.” He’s still a dreamer.
War & Leisure is a sonic smorgasbord, drifting from the bluesy feel of “Wolf” to the atmospheric vibe of “Harem.” The renowned Salaam Remi also helps Miguel cook up a Midnight Love morsel with “Come Through and Chill.” Miguel’s writing and delivery is so often compared to Prince but the most important similarity between the two is their refusal to be boxed into one sound. The sensual “Anointed” sounds nothing like the edgier “Criminal,” but there still a cohesion that ties the project together.
And if you listen closely enough, there’s a pretty important message throughout too.
On the surface, “Banana Clip” is a fun but slightly predictable gun-as-love-metaphor track that we’ve heard countless times. But there’s an underlying commentary there as well: “There’s a war on love, just look around you.”
Miguel fleshes out his social commentary on “Told You So.” The squishy Frogger-ish production belies a more bleak message underneath. On the surface, the song seems to a simple track about seduction, but look deeper and you’ll see that it’s more of a warning about the dangers of blind loyalty. Miguel takes that concept to apocalyptic levels in his latest video.
Whether love or politics, the message is clear – ignoring the signs of danger leads to destruction.
But as always, Miguel leaves us with a tinge of optimism. Instead of preaching doom, “Now” points out our ailing country’s flaws while urging for conversation. If if y’all are too busy to talk, Miguel will get things started: “It’s plain to see a man’s integrity/By the way he treats those he does not need/And it’s time we talk about it/Let’s not waste our common ground.”
And that’s what makes War & Leisure such a smart album. It’s strong yet subtle social commentary spoken in Miguel’s personal love language.
It’s unexpected. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from him.
Best tracks: “Sky Walker,” “Told You So,” “Banana Clip”
4 stars out of 5