Miguel is a dark horse. He knows it. His fans know it. And so do his peers. His sugary vocals on international hits Adorn and How Many Drinks?, both from his second album, have raised the 29-year-old’s profile significantly. So glimpsing the cover of Miguel’s third album, Wildheart – the R&B maestro, bare-chested, clutching the curled, naked body of a woman, in front of a tableau of clouds – naturally sparks questions about whether his ego has outgrown his artistry. It hasn’t, thankfully, even if he has been taking styling tips from Renaissance-era Kanye. More than progression, Wildheart is about affirmation.
Despite already having steamy ballads about quickies and his explicit craving for the thrills only women can provide, some people (and entertainment outlets) don’t seem to have gotten the message about Miguel’s sexuality. Wildheart feels like a reaction to this, and to the fact that his first album, All I Want is You, went mostly unheard. He’s showing everybody just what he’s capable of.
And that begins with a whole lot of sensual numbers that may as well come with the instruction: could the last person into the love nest please dim the lights. Lead single Coffee smokes with the same Prince-like primal energy that Miguel captured in Adorn. The Valley, the singer confessing his lust over a slow-paced, drugged up electro beat, is mischievously NSFW. And the psychedelic, and bizarrely regal, Flesh, engulfs you like angel wings in strong, protracted percussion and benevolent vocal harmonies. The whole track is a marvel, topped by an unexpected, passionate falsetto from the underappreciated love machine.
Miguel has described Wildheart on a number of occasions as sounding “more aggressive” than his earlier work. There’s some truth to that, but save for What’s Normal Anyway, which is a canny reflection on his own mixed heritage and how it “never feels like I belong. I wanna feel like I belong”. It’s not a drastic departure lyrically; sonically, however, the album has been soaked longer in the Californian sunshine to the tune of classic rock. The patient, guitar-led melody to Leaves almost bears resemblance to the Foo Fighters’ signature sound. And the sweeping, Hendrix-style grandeur to Face the Sun, which features rock musician, Lenny Kravitz, and the pomp of Hollywood Dreams, are both a collision of rock anthem and R&B ballad.
While Kaleidoscope Dream was, in Miguel’s words, “lush and ethereal”, Wildheart is characterised by the same dreamy energy and sensual vocals with a greater prominence for guitar rhythms. Trippy, chiptune delight Deal and swaggering rap departure NWA point to a more experimental album than what Wildheart has turned out to be. It’s got attitude, psychedelia and sex. It’s unapologetically frank in places. But though it intentionally avoids sedate, it doesn’t flow as strongly as his second album, nor does it feel quite as spontaneous as his debut.
Still, that’s unlikely to faze the initiated, for whom Miguel’s third album will be more of the (spectacular) same. But for those coming to him fresh, this biblical-themed record is intoxicating. A heavenly affirmation that he’s worthy of the adoration enjoyed by Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Miguel’s new favourite adjective sums it up nicely: “righteous”.
Wildheart by Miguel can be ordered here.