For the most part, I don’t really listen to R&B music. I listened to it a lot when I was younger, but I guess I just outgrew the genre; as I got older, I started becoming less impressed with much of what was released. Most of what I heard on the radio was either just derivative or hyper-sexual (to the point of being obscene- and I’m no prude).
When people were making waves about Miguel’s sophomore album last year, I didn’t pay much attention. Sure, I’m a sucker for a good voice (like everyone raved about Miguel having), but it takes a lot more than just vocal talent for me to enjoy an album. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I heard Miguel’s lead single, Adorn, on an episode of True Blood and couldn’t get it out of my head, that I decided to give his album a try. Taking the lead from Prince and Lenny Kravitz, Miguel manages to inject some rock flair into his music, instead of just resting on the typical R&B music blueprint. Kaleidoscope Dream turns out to be a surprisingly fresh album with a nice blend of musical influences, and a impressive vocal performance from Miguel.
The aforementioned lead single, Adorn, is a catchy mid-tempo ballad, wrapped up in a throbbing techno beat, pulsating synthesisers, and a repetitive keyboard background. On top of the flurry of production (courtesy of Miguel alone, whom is credited as the producer for most of the album) are Miguel’s strong vocals. The real strength of the song is his vocal performance; he certainly has talent, and the way he croons through the ballad (the chorus just consisting of the simplistic repetition of “Let my love adorn you”), sounds like what you’d expect to hear if Marvin Gaye made music in 2012.
Don’t Look Back follows with even more flashy production; sparkly synth lines run underneath a heavy drum loop, and a surprisingly rockin’ guitar riff plays during the choruses. No, this song isn’t what I’d really expect on a typical “R&B album”, and that’s a good thing, in fact. Lyrically, the song doesn’t say much, but the fun is in the danceable beat and Miguel’s lively vocal delivery. Use Me takes the tempo down a few notches, and the production is noticeably less busy this time around. The smooth beat makes for a perfect love song, and Miguel plays the role like a pro, especially as he purrs “Use me, wanna give you control…forgive me, it’s the very first time, and I’m nervous. Can I trust you, huh?” during the seductive chorus.
Meanwhile, Do You… opens with Miguel coyly asking the listener, “Do you like drugs?” The beat picks up with some simplistic strumming, as Miguel continues to ask a bunch of nonsensical questions. It’s all a bit random, but it’s also charming in a way; Miguel seems to be making a play of all the cheesy pick-up lines you hear in clubs (“Do you like drugs, do you like drugs, yeah?/Well, me too, me too, me too, me too/Do you like hugs? Do you like love?/Feel like we got so much in common now”) and he does it all to a catchy beat, which just makes it even better. Title track, Kalediscope Dream, reaches optimal funkiness with the thumping bass that makes up the beat. The song sounds a lot like something Jamiroquai would’ve released in his heyday, and Miguel’s falsetto is the perfect accompaniment to the psychedelic beat. Where’s The Fun In Forever is another Gaye-era throwback, with its Motown-esque bridge and catchy chorus (“Tomorrow’s just a day away/And tomorrow isn’t promised/Where’s the fun in forever/Celebrate!”). The Thrill actually sounds like something you might hear on a rock album; the guitar sounds less like something you’d hear on an R&B album and more like something you’d hear on a Kings of Leon album, while the anthemetic chorus would fit in perfectly amongst the songs on any contemporary radio station.
Not every song on the album is as innovative, however. How Many Drinks? Is the typical chatting-you-up-in-a-club R&B torch song, and the chorus (“How many drinks would it take you to leave with me?/Yeah, you look good and I got money/But I don’t wanna waste my time/Back of my mind I’m hoping you say two or three ”) sounds like one I’ve heard a million times before. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it’s just boring, especially after the far more exciting songs on the album. Arch & Point features another prominent guitar riff, which is again nice to hear, but the lyrics sound like more stereotypical R&B fodder (“Fishnet bodysuit, birthday cake/Fetish is a pleasure you cannot be faked/But when it feels this good, then it just comes natural/Baby, arch your back and point your toes ”), and Miguel’s vocal performance even seems phoned in at this point. A little acoustic number appears next, titled P-ssy Is Mine, and the title leaves little to the imagination. The song acts as a plea to Miguel’s lover to make a commitment, which is nothing new, but it’s more the bold way he puts it across (“Cause I don’t ever want to imagine/All the other n*ggas like me/Ever had a chance to get in your pants/So…Tell me that, that pussy is mine… ”) that shocked me. I think it’s meant to be ironic, and I appreciate it to a certain extent, but I just know that someone has taken the song to a literal extreme and danced to it at their wedding.
“Is there a God? Is He watching? Is She watching?” Miguel philosophizes on the last track on the album, Candles In The Sun. It’s admittedly a little jarring to hear such a serious song after such a silly one like P-ssy Is Mine, but kudos to Miguel for tackling deeper subject matter, anyway. The sparse melody makes the song fairly forgettable, but there are a few good moments lyrically (“Look at all these people/Searching for a reason/Searching for a piece of mind/They say we’re all created equal/That’s what they teach us/But that ain’t how we treat each other”), and Miguel’s vocals are as strong and polished as they’ve been throughout the album.
For the most part, Miguel has done a great job of making a creative, original R&B album. Kalediscope Dream has quite a few great songs, and even the not-so-great tracks are buoyed by Miguel’s considerable vocal talent. For fans of the genre, this is an easy recommendation, but even if you’re not a fan of the genre, this is still an enjoyable album.
2. Don’t Look Back
3. Use Me
4. Do You…
5. Kaleidoscope Dream
6. The Thrill
7. How Many Drinks?
8. Where’s the Fun in Forever?
9. Arch & Point
10. Pussy Is Mine
11. Candle in the Sun