If the past couple years have proven anything it’s that 1.) we are currently living through an R&B Renaissance and 2.) Suffering sells. In music, our infatuation with heartbreak has become so embedded into our perception of quality that we quickly discard anything slightly elated as jovially juvenile. This notion has been challenged by a few brave soles, namely Bruno Mars in recent years but there are few if any comparisons between him as an artist and like say Frank Ocean, The Weeknd or even Beyonce since her last studio album: Lemonade. This collectively subconscious yearning for answers in misery has been tapped into by Daniel Caesar and SZA on their debut albums and was met with immense critical and commercial success. This is not to say that their music is a one-dimensional celebration of all things wretched but their biggest singles this past year, Get You & The Weekend, respectively, have their lyrical weight undercut by their melancholy delivery and downtempo beats. It’s easy to fall into this pattern but risk-taking often reaps the greatest rewards.This notion has been tested most recently by Miguel in his latest studio album War & Leisure.
Miguel is somewhat of R&B veteran who, in the past, has been bewildered by his very own minimization in the music industry. He received substantial blowback for his comments in reference to Frank Ocean in an interview with the Sunday Times in which he said “To be completely honest — and no disrespect to anyone — I genuinely believe that I make better music, all the way around, It’s interesting, but we’ll see who’s in it for the long haul. It’s like a marathon, you know?” Since those fateful words, Miguel unknowingly trapped himself in a comparison with one of the most avant-garde and lauded music writers of all time. Although technically equipped with better vocal ability and range, Miguel has yet to release an album as critically successful as Channel Orange or Blonde. Luckily, on War & Leisure, Miguel relieves himself of that dreaded comparison to improve in his own technical ability as a singer-songwriter. His previous album, Wildheart, which released in 2015, drew on this collective human sadness as mentioned but most of its success came from the light-hearted and sexy singles Coffee and Waves. From War & Leisure’s Rick Ross featuring opening track, Criminal, Miguel quickly sets the tone for a fun, and rich experience. This tempo is kept up on the buoyant songs Pineapple Sky and Sky Walker, the former a clear ode to the late Prince Rogers Nelson and the latter featuring Travis Scott. It’s clear that this time the man is here for a good time. The new dread bearing, Aloha-shirt wearing Miguel delivers fresh material but harkens back to his debut album, All I Want is You, with the J-cole featuring Come through and Chill. This time around Miguel makes sure to please everyone, an ability he pridefully boasts in the album’s most erotic songs such as Banana Clip and Harem.
In interviews preceding the album Miguel explained “With my albums, I always try to take a picture of what’s going on in my life. War & Leisure has political undertones because that’s what life feels like right now. This album is intentionally about the ethos right now, that we are right in the middle of all this. We’re trying to flourish in the middle of all this. We all wake up, and it’s time to be creative and amazing and positive and all the things that we’re supposed to be when you look on Instagram, but then we’re dealing with these same problems, this injustice, wars between politicians with egos. Like, 140 characters are going to get us into a war right now?” It is with this quote that Miguel highlights War & Leisure’s strongest asset, its capability to assert itself with joy in these trying times. Even when he’s touching upon more daunting material like in the track Now, Miguel still keeps his composure and remains resolute showcasing that, just because life is currently characterized by a grey, drab and ugly backdrop doesn’t mean the soundtrack needs to be.
Article written by: Xavier Mattison
Check out more of Xavier’s work at Shameless Plug Media.