By Thomas Johnson, December 8 2017 —
In the lead-up to his fourth full-length effort, Miguel released a single called “Shockandawe.” The track, built on a choppy funk riff and bolstered by blunt references to a war-torn Middle East, was ultimately left off the album. However, it served its purpose as a preview for the crooner’s shifting course. War & Leisure is his most political record. A layer of violence coats the government Miguel imagines with the looming danger of encroaching and inevitable disaster.
Despite having toned down his gallant psychedelia, reverb-soaked guitars — Miguel’s calling card at this point — are omnipresent in War & Leisure. The fun little pops, clicks and bubbles that gave 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream such an alluring warmth have also returned. Miguel sounds at ease on War & Leisure and after honing his songwriting and production skills, the real sell is hearing him stretch out and allow his fervor to run itself into a frenzy. In addition, the structuring and pacing is brilliant. Some songs swell and explode like bombs, while others evoke images of fallouts and settling dust.
Conceptually, War & Leisure is Miguel’s most accomplished album. A disturbing narrative underlines its songs. Miguel acts as a charming anti-hero in a violent love story. Volatile pyromaniacs and wounded soldiers occupy the album looking for lost love among crumbling cities. TNT rattles, contrails tear through the sky like knives and lovers are cast in the shadows of something sinister.
Deep within War & Leisure, underneath all the ammunition and rifle metaphors, is the idea of an almost biblical paradise. Despite the all-consuming aggression of the world, Miguel battles through an uneasy war with an ambiguous enemy searching for that utopia. It’s only on the album’s closer “Now” that Miguel gets openly political, urging a revelation that he prays won’t fall on deaf ears. For the Miguel of War & Leisure, there’s a peaceful future worth fighting for.