Just what kind of R&B visionary is the ascendant star Miguel? While every bit as ambitious Frank Ocean and just as committed to the craft of songwriting as Terius Nash, aka The-Dream, Miguel is far less interested in making big conceptual statements. Because of this, it’s hard to know right away who he is, exactly, or what his goals are. Is he a fearless freak? An introvert? A do-you crooner? Or a canny chart-seeker?
The answer turns out to be all of the above. His first album ran 43 minutes and opened with a sharp, undeniable pop song (“Sure Thing”). Kaleidoscope Dream is 42 minutes, and kicks off with the already-popular lead single “Adorn,” a supplicant’s mid-tempo jam with a telling angle: Miguel makes the case for his lover-man bona fides not on it’ll-move-the-earth-under-your-feet grounds, but because it’ll work for what you’ve already got going on, like a sharp accessory: “Let my love adorn you,” he pleads modestly. The self-negation involved in his come-ons — he openly requests to be defiled during “Use Me” — gives more insight into what might be driving Kaleidoscope Dream than its title does.
There’s a bashful quality even on some of the more direct offerings. “Don’t Look Back” starts out in radio-courting fashion but closes with a surprise coda that reveals a songwriter’s affinity for making every part of a pop song count. He only stumbles towards the end, with “Candles in the Sun,” which flicks at a social consciousness he hasn’t figured out how to carry as convincingly as the seduction-and-pain material. But who said sharply played, tightly written R&B isn’t meaningful all on its own? Miguel, rather like Prince, is a weirdo with a surfeit of hooks and the chops to put them over. In an age of outsized R&B innovators, he’s our subtle auteur.