By Ankita Bhanot, Staff Writer
Miguel’s newest album was expected to be his major comeback. But in many ways, it marks the 32-year-old singer/songwriter’s departure.
The old Miguel — who crooned “this love between you and I/is as simple as pie” on 2011’s Sure Thing and sported a near-bald scalp — has risen to becoming one of the R&B/neo-soul sphere’s most influential sex icons. But the December 1 release of “War & Leisure” illustrates that Miguel’s focus isn’t just on the bedroom.
Although the Prince-inspired artist hasn’t completely let go of his erotic persona, this fourth studio album marks a drastic change from his earlier songs like “Quickie,” “Do You,” and the infamous “Pussy is Mine.” Instead, he tackles issues surrounding Donald Trump, immigration, and the pride and patience that fame and success demand.
“‘War & Leisure’ has political undertones, because that’s what life feels like right now,” he told Billboard. “We all wake up, and it’s time to be creative and amazing and positive and all the things that we’re supposed to be when you look on Instagram, but then we’re dealing with these same problems, this injustice, wars between politicians with egos.
One of the most politically-charged songs from the album is “Come Through and Chill,” a jazzy, relaxed track. J. Cole, who is featured on the song along with Salaam Remi, raps, “Know you’ve been on my mind like Kaepernick kneelin’/Or police killings, or Trump sayin’ slick shit/Manipulatin’ poor white folks because they ignant/Blind to the struggles of the ones that got the pigment” over the song’s soft-strumming guitar. The opening of “Now,” the last song on the album, overtly refers to the POTUS: “CEO of the free world now/Build your walls high and wide.”
“We’re trying not to pay attention, but we have to pay attention,” Miguel said in his interview with Billboard. “This album is intentionally about the ethos right now, that we are right in the middle of all this.”
Miguel joins the rank of other talented musicians who used their craft to comment on the nation’s turmoil this year. Kendrick rapped “Donald Trump is a chump/know how we feel, punk” on “The Heart Part 4.” Eminem’s “The Storm” was a scathing four and a half-minute attack on the President, and Fiona Apple belted “We don’t want your tiny hands” for the Women’s March on Washington.
But Miguel retains his signature artistry while discreetly incorporating these messages. The album’s title refers to the paradox in Miguel’s view of the world: he enjoys life’s pleasures amidst the surrounding chaos. The Miguel we fell in love with after hearing “Adorn” — one of his most popular songs to date — can still be found within the album’s 12-song track list.
“Carmelo Duro,” the ninth song on the album featuring Colombian singer Kali Uchis, translates to “hard candy” from Spanish. ‘Regálame un poco de azúcar,’ (‘Give me some sugar’) he sings over a bubbly, funk-infused Spanish beat. He draws parallels between his sexual urges to those of a werewolf in “Wolf,” where he somewhat ironically sings, “My, what big eyes you have/My, what big teeth you have” — the lines from Little Red Riding Hood.
The album was sparked with the release of its lead single, “Sky Walker,” on August 24, which has accumulated almost 45 million streams on Spotify. The song imitates the psychedelic, experimental style of rapper Travis Scott, who is featured throughout the song. “Good things come to those that wait up/But don’t wait to jump in too long,” Miguel belts in the chorus, referring to the choice many dreamers have to make between patiently waiting and immediately seizing their moment.
Miguel walks a fine line between artistic restraint and completely letting go in this album. In the final seconds of “War & Leisure,” on the last track, Miguel triumphantly calls, “We are the look of freedom/We are the sound of freedom.” Although the issues he sings about may be completely uncertain, Miguel has firmly marked his place among the ranks of pioneers in funk, blues and soul through his latest project.