Wildheart, Miguel‘s third album and second on RCA Records, is an interesting fusion. Melding both classic and current R&B with classic guitar rock, and incorporating elements of throbbing prog-rock, disco, island music, and electronica, the new set of songs are alternately melodic and droning, soulful and techno-inspired. Miguel’s love of combining influences may be plainest of all in “Deal,” with its shouts and a beat straight out of ’70s disco over rock guitars.
It’s an appealing, inventive album well worth a listen. What stops it from meeting its full potential is Miguel’s vocals, which tend to sigh rather than soar. It’s an affect; he’s got a good range and enough power to sell a song with his voice. But he sings the verses of “A Beautiful Exit” with flat affect, detracting from its stronger chorus. He grooves with too-lazy gentleness through the breakdown of the otherwise shiny “Coffee.” He grunts out the lyrics of “Hollywood Dreams” in a careless-sounding manner. These presentations makes it sound as if he’s either unconvinced of the heart of what he’s saying, or unsure he really wants to tell us about it.
Other tracks gel better and thus strike more effectively, like the anthemic “What’s Normal Anyway,” whose narrator is “too far out for the ‘in’ crowd” as well as “too proper for the black kids.” In this mostly non-melodic song Miguel’s mixed-race heritage (part Mexican-American, part African-American) informs his lyrics and his delivery to powerful effect. “I want to feel like I belong – somewhere,” he intones repeatedly, getting no satisfaction. More melodically, he lets the emotions loose on “Leaves” too. One of the best tracks is “NWA” whose dark groove features an intense, juicy rap from Kurupt. Here Miguel seems to be singing about the guts of the matter rather than selling the music per se.
Miguel frequently adds slinky old-school harmony-vocal parts, here recalling The Beatles, there the Temptations. “Waves” soars with insistently rhythmic harmony vocals over a bed of minor-key pop-rock. Just about every song bears the imprint of a thoughtful survey of pop music styles from the 1960s to today. If they don’t all reach the heights to which they aspire, enough do to make the album one of the more creative pop efforts of the year, and the best are hypnotically compelling.