By Greg Salter
If you’ve read or heard about Miguel in recent months, you’ll have probably heard him contextualised in terms of the recent breakout of several R&B artists – Frank Ocean and The Weeknd have wowed increasingly huge audiences, while Kalenna and Dawn Richard have stepped out of the shadow of Diddy Dirty Money with their ambitious and genuinely exciting new solo projects. Miguel’s story, like many of these artists, is not quite the overnight success that many would have you believe – in fact, he’s spent the best part of a decade building up to the release of Kaleidoscope Dream, an album that brims with confessional personality while grabbing at and devouring genres like they’re sweets in a pick’n’mix kiosk.
Miguel’s journey’s been a long one, as much about the struggle for self-definition as it is about the label dramas that inevitably dominate stories like this – he walked away from a deal with indie Black Ice Records in 2004, then signed a deal with Jive in 2007, who released his debut album All I Want Is You in 2010. There was some success – with single ‘Sure Thing’ in particular – but Miguel clearly decided there was a need for a re-think for the follow-up, now on RCA. This year, the build up to Kaleidoscope Dream has seemed endless – a group of free EPs (Art Dealer Chic Vol 1, 2 and 3) promised much, while six of the tracks on the album have featured on preview EPs made available on iTunes over the last few weeks.
The staggered release schedule, aside from being occasionally infuriating, actually helps you take in what could seem quite an overwhelming LP at first. This isn’t difficult music, and Miguel has a way with hooks, but the sheer number of ideas can make Kaleidoscope Dream seem quite dense at first, and it hangs together better and better over repeated listens. Moments of familiarity help then – ‘Adorn’ appeared on Art Dealer Chic and a preview EP and still sounds fresh and irresistible. Like a lost Motown classic decked out in itchy beats and throbbing synths, it deserves to crash the significantly less sophisticated charts. ‘Arch & Point’ has also appeared before, with Miguel’s voice riding the guitar-heavy but airy instrumental, all poise and passion, sounding effortlessly soulful.
Soul, guitars, Motown – if it’s not clear by now, Miguel’s pitching himself somewhere between the more contemporary R&B of someone like Drake and his own childhood influences. In that sense, Kaleidoscope Dream lives up to its title – ‘Don’t Look Back’ samples The Zombies while leaning on some EDM-inspired production, so harmonies tumble over each other, sounding huge, messy but disarming, while closer ‘Candles In The Sun’ builds off zonked-out keyboards into an ambitious, Marvin Gaye-esque, state of the nation address. Meanwhile, the title track has Miguel gliding over old school funk, before breaking open into a proggy, hallucinatory midsection, and ‘Where’s The Fun In Forever’ incorporates a call-and-response section with Alicia Keys, piano and distorted beats, suggesting Frank Ocean isn’t the only one taking inspiration from Stevie Wonder’s ’70s heyday for a more morally ambiguous 21st century.
This vivid, ambitious and far-reaching approach is both the album’s success and slight problem. Kaleidoscope Dream is not the no-filler breakthrough that the lead-up EPs hinted at (the creaky “I’m going to do you like drugs tonight” line on ‘Do You…’ sees to that, and you can kind of identify with his producer’s “Yo, can we get serious please?” at the end of the meandering ‘Pussy is Mine’). However, it crams ideas together skilfully for the most part, flitting between dissecting relationships and politics in a way that recalls Prince at the height of his powers and Erykah Badu’s recent material. While he’s not at their level quite yet, Kaleidoscope Dream packs a number of killer singles, promises much, and stands as a testament to, patiently, going your own way.