If 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream, and specifically its smash single “Adorn,” had people thinking Miguel was the latest incarnation of R. Kelly, Wildheart will certainly bring out the Prince comparisons. Wildheart is weirder and more ambitious than its predecessor, an R&B album inflected with bits of prog rock and charged with sexual and racial imagery. It’s an album that sits closely to Prince’s Sign ‘O’ The Times; but where that record was a sprawling 80 minutes, Miguel distills his experiments into a tight 48, meaning that Wildheart is at once bold and challenging but also a breezy listen.
Wildheart might be a bit stranger than its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it lacks in the sultry jams that made Kaleidoscope Dream one of the best albums of 2012. The album’s first single “Coffee” is the album’s most sensual cut, evident in the pulsing bass line and the way Miguel sings about pillow talk and early morning coffee, his delivery barely more than a hushed whisper. If “Adorn” was seductive in its unhinged passion, mirrored in the vocal performance, then “Coffee” is the morning after, a reflection on the quiet, tender moments of sensuality.
The kind of confident restraint Miguel displays on “Coffee” runs through much of the album. There’s the gentle falsetto that decorates “NWA,” providing a nice contrast to the more masculine themes of the track and the brooding beat. For the most part, Wildheart ditches the hazy sonics of Kaleidoscope Dream, opting for more aggressive beats built around distorted guitar riffs and pounding drums. There’s an urgency to the record that feels at one with the more overt sexuality inherent in just about every track. “The Valley” is the clearest example of this aesthetic shift, where Miguel makes no motion of hiding that he’s singing about “fucking,” not sex or lust or anything else. There’s no room for euphemism on “The Valley” and that directness means that Wildheart feels alive and hedonistic, all sweat and saliva.
Wildheart does falter at times. Miguel steers too far into rock territory on the Lenny Kravitz-featuring closer “Face The Sun,” and the self-love message of “What’s Normal Anyway?” is too on-the-nose and out of place among the rest of the more nuanced tracks. Such stumbles mean that Miguel is taking chances, though, crafting ambitious productions like the hypnotic “Hollywood Dreams” and the slow-burning, sybaritic “Flesh.” Wildheart sees Miguel expanding and refining his sound, and while not every experiment hits its mark, the result is an ambitious and moving album.