On his first two efforts, I didn’t see Miguel as much more than a cheap Prince imitation. He had the pompadour hair, the gentle falsetto, and the guitar theatrics of The Artist Formerly Known As, but in my opinion, he lacked the songwriting chops. I probably wouldn’t have even checked out his new album based solely off my unsatisfactory experience with his past efforts, but then, he said the following in response to a question about neo-soul luminary Frank Ocean: “I genuinely believe that I make better music, all the way around.”
As a staunch supporter of Ocean after his soulful 2012 effort Channel Orange, I had to check Miguel’s Wildheart, if only to scoff at his empty, chest-thumping boast. I went into my first Wildheart listen in the crouched, ready to pounce stance, and left the experience feeling relaxed, nourished, and overall surprised by how much Miguel has grown as a songwriter and producer since Kaleidoscope Dream.
For one, his arrangements are breathtaking. Layers of vocals cascade over one another, walls of silky harmony bursting from every corner and creating a warm backdrop to his sensual tracks. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Miguel to the genius of Brian Wilson, but he definitely has a knack for using vocals to help heighten the album’s more emotional moments. If Wilson knew how to concoct bright and innocent melodies, then Miguel’s Wildheart is the counter point with 13 dark and scandalous songs.
Check out the rush of intricate harmonies that arrive at the two-minute mark on “Waves”:
I still feel Prince is the most obvious comparison to what Miguel is doing (sensuality +soulful guitars=The Symbol), but my view that he is a knock-off brand has been wiped away with Wildheart. Miguel has taken the most recognizable tenets of Prince’s distinctive sound and brought them beyond the days of partying like it’s 1999. Instead, the album sounds timeless. The dub beats and rock riffage result in a refreshing take on R&B, yet the songs soulful backbone could fit in alongside Al Green and Marvin Gaye classics.
If there is anything about Wildheart that might turn listeners sour, it would have to be the lyrics. Miguel doesn’t beat around the bush. There’s no coy come-ons like Gaye’s “Let’s get it on,” or subtle metaphors like Prince’s “Cream.” Instead, Miguel bluntly describes how he wants “to fuck like we’re filming in the valley.” I could see how his overtly sexual lyrics could offend, but there’s also something nurturing to his bedroom exploits. On “Coffee” he follows up a night of “gun play” with “pillow talk” and “coffee in the morning.” There’s a major distinction between what Miguel’s lyrics and guys like Usher and R Kelly sing about. Yes, Miguel boasts his prowess throughout, but there’s also something nurturing about his descriptions. Unlike the aforementioned artists, Miguel is celebrating the experience of shared love instead of simply bragging about himself.
I see the comparison of Miguel and Frank Ocean as a moot point. Both are phenomenal at what they do, and what they do isn’t the same thing. Frank Ocean can work (Stevie) wonders behind his organ while Miguel’s silky guitar riffs result in something refreshing in a time where R&B has grown stagnant and predictable. With Ocean releasing an album later this year, the future looks bright for a genre that has long needed a major facelift.