Miguel displays familiar, well-developed sound on third studio album, Wildheart

Kat Sampson

Those who’ve listen to Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Wale or Mariah Carey have likely listened to Miguel. The 29-year-old is behind the voice that turns rap songs into ballads. Over the past decade, Miguel has attracted much of his fan base from these hits, but, with the release of his third studio album Monday, he’s only relying on one person — himself.

Miguel’s silky smooth, stand-alone vocals matched by his production skills make Wildheart an exemplary R&B record. Miguel’s consistency attracts attention from music stars across the genre spectrum. His music is a formulaic approach to beat layering and vocal repetition.

Above all, what Miguel shows with this album is a dedication to honing a craft. As far as production goes, his synthesized sound hasn’t changed much from his sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream.

Wildheart builds off of the R&B singer’s previous two studio albums. Strains of psychedelic soul pulse through the album, much like they’ve done in the past, but his previous albums lack Wildheart’s depth of emotion. It’s a deeply personal effort that covers topics ranging from life in Los Angeles to race. There are rarely more than two players in a song, which, 99 percent of the time, are he and his romantic interest.

The record, at times, feels lonely. The superficial lack of “other voices” — only two of the 13 songs feature another artist — contributes to this feeling. As a result, Miguel often layers songs with a number of vocal tracks sung by his perfectly manufactured back-up singers. He’s probably attempting a more dynamic sound, but, at its worst, the singing comes off as an uncomfortable echo.

This theme of solitude is reflected in his lyricism, as well, and is no more prevalent than on the track “What’s normal anyway.” He repeats, “I wanna feel like I belong/Just wanna feel like I belong somewhere.” The song is Miguel’s attempt to explain growing up bi-racial and sounds an awful lot like stream of consciousness. There’s a tinge of anger as he speaks his truth. It will take all the listener has not to empathize or identify with his isolation.

If Miguel were looking to cash in on his success, it wouldn’t be hard. His first single off the record, “Coffee,” has the potential to mimic the popularity of “Adorn” — the song that earned Miguel his first Grammy for Best R&B Song of 2013. He has the catchy R&B sound that could garner commercial success, but it never seems like that’s where he’s headed.

 

He doesn’t shy away from material that get’s his tracks labeled as explicit. His vulgarity is nothing new to the genre but rather a different brand. Miguel doesn’t take stances on gang violence or politics, as rapper Kendrick Lamar does — his focus is his music’s sex appeal. Romantic moments are made steamy in songs such as “Coffee” and “The valley,” making it difficult not to draw comparisons to John Legend and Usher.

Wildheart proves Miguel is working to bring R&B into mainstream airwaves through funkadelic ballads. Only time will tell whether this album will bring the artist the attention he deserves. For now, it’s likely he’ll just keep his head down and continue producing dynamic tracks and concept albums.  

Album: Wildheart

Artist: Miguel

Tracks: 13

Rating: 8/10