Miguel’s fourth studio album capitalizes on his ability to blend genres, and reaches the pinnacle of 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 of 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.
The album begins with “Criminal,” a soft rock track that toes the line of 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, offers a much more satisfactory rap/sung collaboration. The track is fun and catchy, and it allows Miguel to exist outside of his usual tangled web of 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 of reality. Records like “Harem,” which is a sacred place in Muslim culture where only women and their children can dwell, evoke emotions of 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-off or interpolation, but an actual Prince record. The awkward hiccup of 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 of Angels,” a song about lost love in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. “City of Angels” is by far my favorite record on the album, because of 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 of their seats. Families are being torn apart, and love is under attack. On “City of Angels,” Miguel paints a powerful picture of 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 of Angels” reminds us to love those we have, while we still have them. Plus, the instrumental is absolutely gorgeous.
“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 of sex on the song when he raps, “In case my lack of 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 of the free world now/ build your walls up high and wide.” He continues on to question the spread of hate and the idea of freedom in Donald’s America, in a way that echoes the introspective emotion of Marvin Gaye’s timeless record “What’s Goin’ On.” “Now” neatly completes the narrative of War & Leisure, an album that balances the bliss of love and the pain of struggle.
Although tracks like “Banana Clip” (which sounds like a desperate attempt to reproduce the magic of “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.