‘War & Leisure’ has some well-hidden gems

Miguel’s newest release falls short in the realm of production despite beautiful vocals

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Miguel released his fourth studio album "War & Leisure" at the start of December.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Miguel has had a fascination with bass ever since the beginning of his career. His sound is driven by pounding hums and charming vocals, which helps listeners easily identify the R&B singer’s slow, sensual tunes as a product of his artistry. Miguel leans toward lyrics describing love, lust and personal development. 

However, he intended to center his creation around a different topic with the release of his new album “War & Leisure.” In an interview with The Guardian, Miguel labeled his new album “a call to action.” After expressing his disapproval of President Donald Trump, Miguel revealed that he feels a responsibility to make a change saying, “My generation are the adults now. We hold the responsibility to shape the world we’re now living in for our children.” The political undertones of “War & Leisure” are not easily identifiable in the album, but can be found with a little searching. 

In the same interview with The Guardian, Miguel expressed his dissatisfaction with the way his 2015 album “Wildheart” was received — both critically and commercially. He mentioned that at his performances, audiences did not connect with the personal messages he was trying to convey. This was disappointing because artists are truly vulnerable during their performances. Miguel acknowledged his own personal shortcomings and went through a period of emotional turmoil caused by his self-perceived failure of “Wildheart.” Nevertheless, he returned to creating and released 12 tracks on “War & Leisure.”

The album begins with “Criminal,” a high-quality song to lure listeners into the album. Featuring Rick Ross, “Criminal” is the best track on the album but not an accurate representation of it. As an outlier, it is both catchy and beautiful, featuring combinations of multiple different instruments. The beach-like tones in the background make it a relaxing listen coupled with the baseline that carries the track.

It is evident that Miguel put a lot of thought, effort and time into creating “War & Leisure,” fueled by the personal dissatisfaction he felt with his last album, but it still ultimately falls short of the quality of previous hits. There is a 50/50 split between songs that stand out and songs that don't live up to Miguel's potential. Notable tracks include “Sky Walker,” “Wolf” and “Harem,” as these songs stand out because of  the variation that the others lack. Multiple instruments in harmony with his voice and the unpredictability throughout the song are what mark Miguel’s success this time around. 

The well-known selection of artists that Miguel features on the album are very cohesive with the sound of his voice and contribute hugely to the work. Rick Ross’s appearance on “Criminal” adds an element of subdued intensity to the song. On “Sky Walker,” a single released before the album, Travis Scott makes the song catchy and current, and of course makes his mark by inserting his signature background exclamations such as, “It’s lit!”

One might hope that multiple listens to “War & Leisure” uncover the value of less notable tracks, but sadly, this is not the case. “Pineapple Skies” and “Banana Clip,” despite Miguel’s supposed best intentions, are little more than mediocre. “Told You So” and “City of Angels” are quite simply boring, failing to include any elements of surprise to keep the listener hooked. Even the track “Come Through and Chill,” featuring J. Cole and Salaam Remi, ultimately proved to be a disappointing waste of potential. 

Miguel’s voice is inarguably beautiful and his raw talent is displayed on this album. However, the main fault “War & Leisure” possesses is the lack of diversity in the production of the songs. Those that switch up the sounds throughout are amazing and enjoyable, but they are also hard to come by on this album. The elements that make songs most memorable to listeners are either beautiful vocals, stellar production or both. Miguel has the vocals down, but the level of production of “War & Leisure” is not at the point where it has enough variance to be innovative. 

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