I was in the Viper Room for the 2010 release party of Miguel’s breakthrough album, All I Want Is You, and what I saw was a young performer just coming into his own. A little over a year later, I caught him at Club Nokia, and it was immediately obvious that I was watching Miguel 2.0. In 2010, Miguel was confident, but now he moved across the stage with the captivating narcissism that all great performers have: “You paid money to see someone do something extraordinary, and I’m going to deliver.”
Certainly a number one single and a relentless touring schedule helped take Miguel to the next level, but after listening to his new album Kaleidoscope Dream, it sounds like there’s something far deeper happening. Miguel now seemingly believes in the music he hears in his head so strongly that he’s going to make it, even if it doesn’t sound like what the label, the radio or even the public is waiting for.
No one would ever mistake them for each other, but with this album, Miguel is a part of the Frank Ocean/Weeknd/etc. movement that’s slowly but surely moving R&B away from the polished, six-pack style that dominated the 2000s and towards something more complex, eclectic and often even openly vulnerable.
Just take the lead single "Adorn." While most R&B is being tailor-made for the club, the dripping and slowly burning "Adorn" is tailor-made for the come down after a night at the club (ideally when you’re not alone). Yep, that’s right, "Adorn" is what we like to call a deal closer, a description that could also easily fit the more rock-infused "The Thrill." There’s a certain hypnotic effect that all true baby makers have to contain and Miguel’s purposefully subtle voice on "The Thrill" accomplishes this effect.
The mood is set even more on the following track "Use Me," which somehow manages to be simultaneously intense and soothing…now that I think about it, isn’t the best sex simultaneously intense and soothing? Isn’t "Arch & Point" or "Use Me" exactly the kind of music you want to throw on to convince that platonic friend to become a friend with benefits? You know what, let’s just move on before they have to slap a parental advisory sticker on this review. Let’s just leave it alone. I think I’ve made my point.
Potential baby-making aside, Kaleidoscope Dream gives even the celibate plenty to dig into, most notably on the political "Candles in the Sun." Created with a live sound that makes you feel like you’re in the studio watching a one-take recording, Candles is a patchwork of styles and famous quotes from everyone from Biggie to John Lennon. It’s an admirable effort but ultimately doesn’t connect as strongly as the equally adventurous but more personal and powerful "Don’t Look Back." Those up on their ‘60s rock will enjoy his shout out to The Zombies on the outro, but by no means is that knowledge a prerequisite. Trippy, genre-bending and yet still soulful and distinctly R&B, if any one track embodies the musical ground Miguel is now dedicated to charting, it’s "Don’t Look Back."
Make no mistake, Kaleidoscope still treads some familiar R&B territory, albeit with a twist. Just like he did with "Quickie," Miguel uses a line like, “How many drinks will it take you to leave with me?” that might sound blunt and aggressive from anyone else come across as smooth and even playful. And as long as we’re discussing chemical assistance, "Do You…" might go down in music history as one of the best uses in ellipsis in a song title (it finishes “like drugs?”). But punctuation aside, while "All I Want Is You" was far from a “typical” R&B album, as songs like "How Many Drinks" and "Do You..." prove, even when addressing some of the genres more common topics, Miguel’s increasingly anything but common.
Was Miguel always dreaming in such vibrant colors and purposefully dulling his palette to ease his way into the mainstream? Or has he had a musical awakening of sorts, seeing colors he never saw before? As always, the truth is likely a combination of both. But either way, there’s no doubting that he’s gone from a freshman to a full-fledged member of R&B’s graduating class with Kaleidoscope Dream. Where he goes from here no one knows, maybe not even him, and with Miguel, you get the feeling that’s exactly the point.