Pop auteur Miguel steps toward overt political songwriting without sacrificing sexiness on War & Leisure | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Pop auteur Miguel steps toward overt political songwriting without sacrificing sexiness on War & Leisure 

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click to enlarge Miguel

Miguel

TImothy Saccenti

On his fourth album, December’s War & Leisure (ByStorm/RCA), California pop auteur Miguel wants you to know that politics and the state of the world are front and center in his mind (hey, look, the word “war” is even in the title!). But Miguel’s best political statements are similar to any of the other messages in his sultry R&B songs, which can make rooms steam like a sauna—his astute, activist affirmations come forth easily and feel as unique to him as his right index finger. On “What’s Normal Anyway,” off 2015’s Wildheart, he draws on his personal experience to make a complex, powerful statement about racial identity. But as successful as Miguel is when he approaches subjects from a place of firsthand knowledge, he steps into overtly political songwriting gingerly and awkwardly. Though his heart is in the right place when he lays into Trump on “Now,” his lyrics lack the insight and resonance he’s capable of putting to music. War & Leisure is otherwise on par with Miguel’s high standards as he continues his sojourn into unseen corners of the pop lexicon where art-pop, hip-hop, soul, R&B, and funk do the things consenting adults do. On the slow-burning “Wolf,” he plays with tension so well that the song feels as though it could catch fire at any moment, and if music supervisors knew what was good for them, the shimmering, icy “Sky Walker” would be used for every slow-motion scene in films for the next couple years.   v

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