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Album Review: "War & Leisure", Miguel

I’ve seen War & Leisure referred to as a summer album released in December; although this makes sense, if that’s true, I guess this was just the animated, lively album we needed to start the beginning of a long winter. This is Miguel’s fourth official studio album, following up the 2015 release of Wildheart, and overall, it’s sitting with me pretty well. One of the most impressive things about this project is Miguel’s vocal range- the majority of the performances are so passionate and compelling. The production on the record is especially hard-hitting as well, with the fusion of a number of genres like pop, funk, rock, soul in addition to r&b. There’s an infectious energy to the first half of the project in particular; it’s bright and full of life, breezy while still having a definite bite to it.

The album’s difficult not to be sucked into from the first few tracks, it’s pretty infectious. The guitars in Criminal lace the rest of the production effectively, with the hard-hitting drums and eerie synths in the background. Pineapple Skies feels like taking a stroll through Central Park in the summertime, with a hard-hitting bassline, blissful layers of guitars and dreamy synths. The vocal performance in Wolf definitely feels influenced by old-school soul, which the production fits with well. Told You So has a very staccato, dancey, almost grimy sound to it that immediately hooks you into the song. Caramelo Duro is Miguel’s first song with the majority of its lyrics in Spanish, and I have to say, he pulled the whole thing off extremely well. It has a killer bassline and an infectious funky beat, and the vocal performance couldn’t have been better executed. Overall it’s a very sonically pleasing album. Although a lot of the songs on the album stand out mostly for their production, a couple of tracks take a more lyrical standpoint, which sometimes plays to Miguel’s advantage. I like the concept behind City of Angels, based on a fabricated war in the city he lives where instead of being with this girl he’s talking about, he’s cheating on her in Venice Beach. He takes the blame and the track’s mostly based on how he’d rather see her dead than never see her again. However, in cuts like Harem or Anointed, the lyrics are just repetitive and uninteresting, and without the same energetic/compelling production as the other tracks, they kind of pale in comparison.

To be honest, the majority of my problems with the album lie in the lyrics. Like I honestly have no idea why lines like “pain is heaven, call it 9/11” or “I got a mind like Columbine/I’m a vigilante, I’m volatile/I pick and choose like duck duck goose” made it onto Criminal. Or why “got the baes lookin’ at me like it’s dinnertime, I know she vegan but she want the steak tonight” made it onto Sky Walker. While each song does have its own concept/intention behind it, a lot of the time the verses are very surface-level and aren’t executed well, or just downright cringeworthy. Overall Miguel just doesn’t have a lot to say; which is fine, I have no problem with a record that’s simply impressive for its production; I just wish he wouldn’t give off the impression that he did. The political lyrics a lot of times on this record feel completely out of the blue and just thrown in for the sake of it, like on Come Through and Chill in J. Cole’s verse with lines like “know you’ve been on my mind like Kaepernick kneelin’, or police killings, or Trump sayin’ slick shit”, then proceeding to go right back to lines about his feelings for this girl. It doesn’t play a real role in any of the themes here and just feels altogether pretty random.

Also, was I the only person who didn’t really like Come Through and Chill at all? The entire sentiment behind it didn’t sit right with me, it’s not necessarily an awful song all-around, it’s just that it felt a lot like some guy you’re not into trying to get through to you and feeling entitled to your time. If you have to convince someone to come through and chill, they probably don’t really want to be there. The features here don’t really add much of anything to the album for me either. Rick Ross is actually fine on Criminal, but definitely not impressive. J. Cole’s verses just make me dislike Come Through and Chill more than I already did. And even after repeated listens, I have no clue where Kali Uchis shows up on Caramelo Duro.

Overall I think this is definitely a mixed bag, but the production is decently consistently great throughout. It’s just catchy, hooky, surface-level enjoyable pop r&b; there’s some lyrical moments that didn’t need to be there, some songs that could’ve been better executed, but for the most part it’s full of fun bangers and I think it’s a pretty good album. I don’t think it’s meant to be taken too seriously. So I’d take it for what it is; a collection of summer songs that give instant gratification/enjoyment. I’ve seen a lot of people complain about this being released in early December. but for those of you who are gonna see Miguel live this spring/summer, it gives you time to let these songs sink in, they can still be your summer 2018 bangers. There are a lot of moments that are just full of infectious energy, and there’s never really a bad time to experience that, in my humble opinion…

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