When Miguel released his breakthrough sophomore record Kaleidoscope Dream in 2012 it took a little while for the momentum to build. It was immediately clear to critics that the album was great but while the mainstream tastes were shifting further to RnB it took a little while for Miguel to be completely accepted. His 2013 Grammys performance of Adorn was a big moment for him in his rise. It announced to everybody who didn’t already know that the world had a supreme male RnB vocalist, the likes of which had not been seen since, perhaps, D’Angelo.
So what does Miguel do now that the genre he rode to fame with has flooded the mainstream to the point where Selena Gomez is even doing it? He takes a left turn. Miguel’s third LP WildHeart is closer to soulful rock n’ roll than it is RnB, as synths are traded for howling guitars and reverb is introduced. You won’t find the smooth sheen of Adorn on this record and maybe that’s the record’s greatest strength – it allows you to discover a different element to Miguel.
That’s not to say WildHeart is a total departure from the RnB genre. It’s still sensual, smooth and at times beat-driven, but from its opener a beautiful exit, it’s immediately clear that it’s a far more organic, rough listen. “We’re going to die young,” he sings a beautiful exit, echoing a long-established rock n’ roll sentiment of freedom. That idea of being free, whether it be sexually or mentally is something that binds each song on the album.
Kaleidoscope Dream was a sexually-charged record and WildHeart is really no different in that sense. “Confess your sins to me while you masturbate,” he sings on The Valley over dirty, grinding synths. It’s the most explicit track on the album and the instrumental suggests that. Similar themes re-emerge on other songs on the album but never to that degree. On Waves he wants to “ride that wave,” as he sings on the funky, playful track. It’s times like these that you actually have to read the lyrics to realise the lyrical content. He’s so damn smooth he sings everything with careful tenderness.
First single Coffee is the most successful bedroom track. It’s an under-the-sheets, lyrical masterclass that oozes intimacy. While Miguel holds nothing back when it comes to singing about sex, it’s done with love, never sounding like a cheap, one-sided romp. The singer has been with his girlfriend for a decade, which probably explains that. “I wish I could paint our love,” he sings, surely melting girls hearts around the world.
Away from the sex, WildHeart paints Miguel as an outsider. Most of the music has this Harley-into-the-sunset toughness about it that’s both freeing and lonely. It’s the howling guitars and grungy production that do it but it’s also his autobiographical lyrics. “Too proper for the black kids, too black for the Mexicans,” he sings on the most introspective track What’s Normal Anyway? It’s a rare, intimate look into the makings of an on-the-surface suave Miguel. “I never feel like I belong,” he adds alongside a sonic-backing that’s happy to be contained.
The next song Hollywood Dreams sees Miguel let loose musically piling on the guitars and booming beats to help the track take flight. From this point on the rock guitars become his greatest weapon. He uses them to expand the soundscape which in turn allows him to let loose vocally. Even Cashmere Cat’s contribution …goingtohell rumbles with distorted instruments – a far cry from Cashy’s flashy remix of Do You…
California is the geographical heart of the album and it’s the best possible place to explore the idea of freedom. Miguel called it a “beautiful and hopeless place” in Rolling Stone and that’s exactly how it’s portrayed here. “Sweet California, bitter California,” he acknowledges on leaves backed by zero percussion, just hopeful and mournful guitars. Miguel surely knows all too well how it feels to be both jaded and inspired by the city.
Album closers leaves and face the sun are the two that really make you feel something for WildHeart. They have these big uplifting melodies that sweep from beneath and elevate the record into the clouds. In terms of imagery it’s as if he’s at the point on the motorcycle where he’s slowly becoming one with the horizon. Face The Sun is his love letter to his girlfriend and it’s the perfect closer in the sense that WildHeart paints an uncertain Miguel at many points but here he’s sure of one thing – “I belong with you.” A simple, perhaps cliché, statement but one that really resonates in a flurry muscular guitars and heart-stomping percussion.
Lyrically intimate yet sonically expansive and stadium-ready – that’s the heart of WildHeart.