Miguel "War & Leisure" Review

Miguel’s fourth studio album capitalizes on his ability to blend genres, and reaches the pinnacle R&B perfection. War & Leisure bravely mixes love with social awareness, while still radiating sexual dominance and unwavering emotional depth. Of course, melding genres has been Miguel’s most powerful weapon in the past. Whereas Bruno Mars follows the same method, combining funky up-tempo feel-good pop and soul, Miguel builds his album a little differently. The same familiar elements funk exist on War & Leisure, but they aren’t constructed to be massive commercial hits. Miguel’s music is crafted to resonate within both the mind and soul. He is the Prince to Bruno’s Michael, an artist that exists in the same genre, but not in the same dimension.

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The album begins with “Criminal,” a st rock track that toes the line pop music until Rick Ross inserts a boisterous verse in-between the guitar riffs. While I’m not implying that Ross didn’t deliver on the record, it just feels like Miguel’s crooning should not have been interrupted on such a smooth introduction. In comparison, the first single “Sky Walker” featuring Travis Scott, fers a much more satisfactory rap/sung collaboration. The track is fun and catchy, and it allows Miguel to exist outside his usual tangled web emotions, in a place where La Flame also feels most at home. As the listener dives deeper into War & Leisure, it is easy to lose track reality. Records like “Harem,” which is a sacred place in Muslim culture where only women and their children can dwell, evoke emotions lustful psychedelic time travel. Is that even an emotion? Miguel just made it one.

“Told You So” feels like it could be a Prince song. Not a Prince rip-f or interpolation, but an actual Prince record. The awkward hiccup pop synths combines with the funky chorus melody to recreate a hit straight from the 80s. Miguel glides over the funk-pop instrumental in a confident manner that would make The Purple One proud. “Told You So” flawlessly flows into “City Angels,” a song about lost love in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. “City Angels” is by far my favorite record on the album, because the impeccably placed social awareness on the song. War is on every American’s mind these days. Our President is pushing a violent rhetoric, and both America’s allies and enemies are sitting at the edge their seats. Families are being torn apart, and love is under attack. On “City Angels,” Miguel paints a powerful picture a lover that was abandoned during a war that ultimately destroys Los Angeles. It’s cinematic; a record that could be played during a heroic battle scene in some Hollywood mega-production where the protagonist perishes. The emotion is raw, and the message resonated with me. There are small orange fingers swaying over the button that could start a nuclear winter, and “City Angels” reminds us to love those we have, while we still have them. Plus, the instrumental is absolutely gorgeous. 

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“Come Through and Chill,” a song about a booty call on the surface, functions as a low key socially conscious record as well. J. Cole blesses the Salaam Remi-produced masterpiece, and once again Miguel and Cole give the fans a classic track.  Jermaine slyly changes the narrative sex on the song when he raps, “In case my lack reply had you catchin’ them feelings/ know you’ve been on my mind like Kaepernick kneelin’/ or Police killings, or Trump sayin' slick shit/ manipulatin’ poor white folks because they ignant.” Somehow sex and politics thematically mesh over the smooth guitar strings and mellow baseline. The outro “Now” refuses to be subliminally or subtly political, and attacks Trump blatantly. Miguel begins by singing “CEO the free world now/ build your walls up high and wide.” He continues on to question the spread hate and the idea freedom in Donald’s America, in a way that echoes the introspective emotion Marvin Gaye’s timeless record “What’s Goin’ On.” “Now” neatly completes the narrative War & Leisure, an album that balances the bliss love and the pain struggle.

Although tracks like “Banana Clip” (which sounds like a desperate attempt to reproduce the magic “Adorn”) and “Pineapple Skies” miss the mark, War & Leisure is a near perfect R&B album that has emotional depth, euphoric funk, and a political statement. Miguel bends genres and concepts, giving fans an album that displays his growth as an artist. It has been an amazing year for R&B.