Friday, December 8, 2017

Miguel - War & Leisure Review

The premise of War & Leisure is spelled out in the album's very title. How does one continue on making sex-crazed, bedroom ballads when hate, violence, and protest rage onwards outside? That's the dilemma Miguel found himself in when incessant news coverage, social media outbursts, cultural insensitivity, and eternal turf-wars got the better of him. An artist must, at one point or another, in times of hardship, reflect on what they're currently offering to the world. Miguel's no different. However, unlike 2015's Wildheart where the R&B singer posed thought-provoking questions in the repose of lovemaking ('what's normal anyway'), War & Leisure attempts to combine the two polar opposites, finding solutions in peace, but a new character in destruction. The result isn't great, if only for the fact that the two halves struggle to find sensible similarities.

Right from the get-go, on 'Criminal,' Miguel paints himself as a ticking time bomb ("I got a mind like Columbine, a vigilante, I'm volatile"). Apart from being extraordinarily tasteless, using an infamous school shooting to make himself out to be a bad boy, the line is wholly ironic given the self-discipline administered throughout War & Leisure. The album itself is achingly dull, even for Contemporary R&B, and especially compared to Wildheart, an album whose opening moments (on 'a beautiful exit') were more contentious than anything here. 'Criminal' doesn't set the LP off on the right foot, as it's tough to take Miguel's perceived dark side seriously when he's oozing over West Coast incandescence. A sound, mind you, that Miguel's virtually perfected since Kaleidoscopic Dream. The best tracks here are those which abide to that style, but do so without Miguel's need to invite strife and conflict into the land of milk and honey. 'Pineapple Skies' is a textbook example, one that soars high above the gunfire, not as a means to escape, but a prospect that hope conquers all.

Unfortunately, that pseudo-edginess rears its ugly head on two of the next three songs; 'Sky Walker' and 'Wolf.' After numerous listens I'm still left baffled over the entire premise of 'Sky Walker,' in that, it doesn't seem to have one. It's as if Miguel saw Trap as the darkness infesting R&B, which isn't entirely wrong, and decided to leech on two years too late by adding Travis Scott. On 'Wolf,' Miguel likens himself to a werewolf with intense sexual urges. Apart from an embarrassing use of an outdated meme ("hide your kids, hide your wife"), the content isn't all bad. That honor goes to Miguel's theatrical villainy, something that doesn't suit his buttery chops well. In the middle of these two misfires comes 'Banana Clip,' likely the best representation of Miguel's need to amalgamate combat to the bedroom, love to the streets. And even though he's utilized these comparisons before ("wordplay turns into gunplay, gunplay turns into pillow talk" on 'Coffee'), the pressing vibe of 'Banana Clip,' combined with the track's jubilance, helps it stand out.

Towards the latter half of the LP, Miguel's overarching message becomes increasingly unclear. One moment he's dripping regret whilst cheating as Los Angeles is destroyed on the syrupy Blues ballad 'City Of Angels,' the next he's providing a Latin spark with the Spanish-sung 'Caramelo Duro,' the next he's enjoying casual relations as J. Cole ponders social injustice on 'Come Through & Chill.' There's no tissue connecting the tracks, which is frustrating because each of the three examples, on their own, aren't bad. 'Caramelo Duro,' in particular, is especially satisfying given the pacing and festive tone. Looking at War & Leisure as a whole and it's easy to see the holes all over the LP. Miguel's attempt at bringing his peace to the violence, tainting his character in the process, was admirable but ultimately fruitless. There's a reason the bedroom and the war zone are separated. To the other side, each is nothing more than a fantasy, hardly tacitly compared, and especially not united.

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