In the last decade, R&B — once a genre full of musical and creative diversity — has decayed into a mostly homogenous mess of artists who have lost the ability to think outside the box. Insert into this picture Miguel.
What separates Miguel from his R&B contemporaries is the fact that his music can’t be defined by the standard R&B guidelines. He lacks the dance moves of Usher, the multi-octave vocal range of R. Kelly and even the soulfulness of Raphael Saadiq. A more apt comparison would be a 21st-century Prince — a man in a genre of his own.
Miguel’s debut, 2010’s All I Want Is You, sold well and received solid reviews. That being said, for every experimental and soulful slow jam on the album, there was a song that was a little off, a song about stuff the other R&B singers talk about. Blame it on the major label influence, but listening to the album, you get the feeling that there was something Miguel was holding back, something even freakier, even wilder — the true, down and dirty Miguel.
Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel’s second album, is the unhindered expression of this pent-up emotion. The opening track, “Adorn,” a standout from the album and his most successful song to date, simply gives you that feeling: Miguel hits every note, the beat is funky and smooth and you can’t help but sing along. Remember, though, Miguel is not an R&B singer, and Kaleidoscope Dream is markedly different from other contemporary R&B albums out there. It has various musical influences — a kaleidoscope of genres, if you will — similar to many Prince albums. The title track has a thumping, DJ Premier-esque hip-hop beat, “Use Me” is a grungy, guitar filled slow-jam, and “Where’s the Fun in Forever,” another highlight, utilizes ’70s sounding break-beat drums, a heavy baseline and a catchy shout chorus (with the help of Alicia Keys).
Miguel’s greatest strength has always been his ability to talk to the ladies. For better or worse, Miguel sings what’s on his mind, whether or not it’s cheesy or of the highest lyrical standard. On “Do You … ” the second single, Miguel flat out says to his woman, “I want to do you like drugs,” a line that rivals only Rick Ross telling a girl she looks like a bag of money as the worst pickup line ever. The song, questionable metaphor aside, is a highlight of the album. It morphs from a simple guitar lick into a head-bobbing, harmonizing, play-this-in-a-convertible summer jam.
There are moments, however, when the album feels a little forced. “Don’t Look Back” attempts to incorporate a heavy electric guitar riff, but Miguel’s voice is swallowed up by cymbal crashes and excessive noise. “How Many Drinks,” the most stereotypical R&B song on the record, is catchy, but uses an extremely tired subject matter: “How many drinks would it take for you to leave with me / You look good and I’ve got money but I don’t wanna waste my time.” Come on, Miguel. Stop being so lazy.
In recent musical memory, “Pussy Is Mine,” the second to last track, has to be one of the most absurd songs to ever be included on an album. As Miguel croons the opening lyrics, “Tell me that that pussy is mine …” his friends laugh in the background, and it’s obvious that this is a joke, right? Well, maybe not. As ridiculous as the lyrics are, this is Miguel at his most vulnerable and most exposed, just a guy and a guitar, unaware that he’s even being recorded. By the end, it becomes clear that the song was never about the vulgar lyrics — it was included in the album as an outtake, a glimpse at Miguel in the moment, and as the song comes to a close he pleads, almost desperately, “I don’t want to believe / Anyone is just like me.” Don’t worry, Miguel. No one is.