Miguel — recently seen performing Best Original Song winner “Remember Me" (from Coco) at the Oscars — makes it all look so easy. The 32-year old singer/songwriter has dropped four full-length albums since 2010, each a deft mix of electro-laced R&B, Rock and Funk — the type of genre crosspollination that made Prince a multi-hyphenate star of the highest order. While Miguel’s profile is not yet near that of his most obvious inspiration, his brand of sly, sensuous music is a respite from the tumult that dominates our current culture.
That’s not to say Miguel is immune to what’s going on around us. The title of his latest, released last December, isn’t subtle about what might be on his mind — War & Leisure is a loose concept album about buttressing social strife with love and sex. Album opener “Criminal” — a slinky rocker that features a guest spot from rapper Rick Ross — includes references to Columbine and Colin Kaepernick, while at the same time finding Miguel in his usual lover-man mode, admitting to his lady, “Oh, it’s so good it feels criminal/This shit’s gotta be criminal/The way I keep killing you.” (Don’t worry, #metoo movement, it’s a metaphor used in the most partner-pleasing way possible.)
War & Leisure’s most curious track is “City of Angels,” an ode to Miguel’s native California that mixes apocalyptic imagery with romantic longing. Backed by sparse, almost remedial instrumentation, Miguel’s versatile, ever-expressive voice tells the story of a surprise aerial attack on Los Angeles, during which our first-person narrator admits he did someone wrong: “I was at a townhouse down in Venice Beach/Stealing moments with you know who/We won the war but not a day goes by/That I don’t think I shoulda been with you.” The chorus includes more regret, as Miguel sings, “When the City of Angels fell/I was busy letting you down, woman/When the City of Angels fell/I was nowhere to be found.” It’s the rare song that yields sympathy for both the lothario and the scorned partner, just another sign that Miguel is on a creative plateau all his own.