Album Of The Week

Pleasure meets politics

Miguel, whose father is Mexican- American and mother is African- American, feels strongly about the current United States administration’s attitudes towards immigrants.
Miguel, whose father is Mexican- American and mother is African- American, feels strongly about the current United States administration’s attitudes towards immigrants. PHOTOS: RCA RECORDS

Singer-songwriter Miguel explores the state of affairs in the United States with War & Leisure

The sheer number of urban acts in the running for the major gongs in next year's Grammys is a reflection of the amount of quality content put out in the past year.

The year-end brings another stellar release for discerning R&B fans: the fourth album by American singer-songwriter Miguel, who won Best R&B Song for 2013 tune Adorn.

In War & Leisure, the 32-year-old takes his cue from trailblazers such as Prince and Marvin Gaye (he even incorporates Sexual Healing in the psychedelic funk of Pineapple Skies), both of whom were known to mix pleasure with politics in their oeuvre. In lesser hands, the juxtaposition may have been awkward, but Miguel's smooth vocal delivery and effortless flow make it work.

There is a lot going on in the production - dreamy electronica accompanied by warm, retro-sounding synths and trebly guitar jangles.

The basslines are dominant and thick, whether they are anchoring the rhythm or kicking up a tight groove, such as in Banana Clip, which sees him playing with military analogies as he tries to reassure his lover in times of upheaval and war ("Girl, M16 on my lap/Korean missiles in the sky").

City Of Angels is him playing the lothario who regrets not being with the true love of his life when his city of Los Angeles is swept up in battle ("When the City of Angels fell/I was busy letting you down, woman").

He sweet-talks his way through a trippy number, Harem, and the creeping Wolf, espousing the pleasures of the flesh.

  • R&B/FUNK

  • WAR & LEISURE

    Miguel

    ByStorm/RCA

    4/5 Stars

An array of collaborators augments several tunes, from gruff rapper Rick Ross on ethereal album-opener Criminal to J. Cole's pulse-raising verses on an otherwise mellow song, Come Through And Chill.

Miguel, whose father is Mexican-American and mother is African-American, has strong feelings about the current United States administration's attitudes towards immigrants.

Album-closer Now, the release's most politically charged work, references US President Donald's Trump's plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico while its music video features Miguel's visit to a prison for immigrants in California.

Yet, he still espouses the power of hope and makes a call for a recognition of humanity's "common ground". "Now or never, we can work together/We only suffer what we allow," he pleads passionately.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline 'Pleasure meets politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe