For a young quarterback who picked up his first bruises in Pop Warner, sweated through double sessions in high school and spent nights studying his playbook while others partied in college, finally making the NFL feels like the culmination of a dream. It’s not. It’s only a beginning. Even if that rookie quarterback does everything right, circumstances beyond his control—team politics, an established star at the position—can mean he spends his first year, even his second and third year, riding the bench. It’s at that point that he has two choices: start to slack off and slowly but surely find himself out of the league (Matt Leinart), or use every day to learn and when his opportunity inevitably arises, seize it (Tom Brady).
If you’re asking, “what does any of this have to do with Miguel,” you’re clearly new around here. Watch the King of the sports-music analogy go to work. When Miguel first signed to Jive it was undoubtedly a momentous occasion, but timing and legal troubles initially forced him to the background. The music gods work in mysterious ways. If the L.A. based singer/songwriter had been forced immediately into the spotlight he likely would have been too young, too raw, but by spending the last few years learning from some of the game’s greats (how does writing for Usher sound?) he’s ensured that when the time finally came to unveil his debut album, the wide-ranging All I Want Is You, he was ready.
So for us, it may seem that a hit like Miguel’s title track, "All I Want Is You," came overnight, it’s essentially been years in the making. It’s not hard to hear why the record became the song that pushed Miguel into America’s eardrums. The Salaam Remi beat draws on the kind of guitar and drum driven soul and blues that Miguel’s understated voice seems made for. Knowing when to vocally hold back, and leave us wanting more, is the mark of a veteran, and makes the effect when he finally does unleash the full strength of his voice that much more powerful.
That kind of restraint is on display again on the smoky "Vixen," a jazz club ready joint that, it must be said, shows the man’s spent more than a couple hours listening to MJ records. Besides my penchant for sports analogies, regular readers also know I demand a true babymaker from my singers—be careful what you wish for, I have a baby for a reason—and fortunately Miguel more than delivers (pun intended) on the softly pounding "Teach Me," a burner that draws on Prince’s rock/R&B blueprint to create a song that’s really meant to be listened to in the bedroom. There’s a reason it’s the longest song on the album. Thanks, Miguel.
In interviews, Miguel has made his commitment to eclecticism and musical diversity clear, but as is so often the case, his willingness to wander is a double-edged sword. While I’m always down to travel, it helps if I really know my guide, and All I Want Is You doesn’t truly give us a solid sense of who he is as an artist. Is Miguel the club-loving, electronically drenched, currency accumulating international man of luxury that we hear on "Pay Me"? Or maybe he’s the airy-voiced, dance-floor catalyst that we get on "To The Moon"? Then again, perhaps he’s the reggae-influenced, no strings attached procurer we’re treated to on "Quickie"? It’s too easy to say that Miguel is all of these things. The strongest artists have a core style that allows them to sound simultaneously at home and entirely themselves on even the most disparate of songs (case in point, Kanye), and while All I Want Is You gives us all of Miguel’s sides, we’re left grasping for Miguel’s whole.
Expecting to hear a fully developed artist on a debut album, even if that debut album is years in the making, is unrealistic, to say the least. Instead, it’s better to focus on the promise that All I Want Is You holds; promises like "My Piece." Easily the most innovative record on the album, "My Piece" takes the minimalist R&B framework and twists it into something completely new, and completely Miguel, that hopefully is a sign of the greatness we can expect over the coming years.
For a man who’s really just getting his first taste of the game under the big lights, Miguel sounds remarkably poised, and if he can continue to develop his talent, he’s got all the hallmarks of a future champion.