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Album Review | R&B

Miguel, ‘Wildheart’

Larry Busacca/Getty Images/Getty

“Wildheart” is the truest definition of Miguel’s new third album. The R&B sensualist has been simmering over the past five years but finally reaches a full-on boil on his latest.

When people talk about post-genre music, especially in the modern R&B realm, they’re referring to artists like Miguel, Frank Ocean, and Janelle Monáe, the latter of whom enlisted Miguel for a duet (“Primetime”) on her last album, “The Electric Lady.” Their songs spring not from a style of music, but rather a state of mind. Why should they relegate themselves to R&B or soul when they grew up on a diet of pop, gospel, hip-hop, EDM, and who knows what else?


“Wildheart,” which will be released on Tuesday, is the embodiment of that panoramic view, an album you think you’ve figured out until the next song obliterates that notion. Miguel, whose full name is Miguel Jontel Pimentel, not only chafes at the idea of limiting his scope, but rejects it outright as part of his artistic identity.

“Too proper for the black kids/ Too black for the Mexicans/ Too square to be a hood. . . ” he sings on “What’s Normal Anyway,” referencing his biracial heritage while also admitting he wished he didn’t feel so alone sometimes.

The album’s production might as well be its own character. This is a carefully crafted work, mindful of mood and how it colors the lyrics. So much of the music has a slippery seduction through shape-shifting digital beats and skeletal backdrops that somehow seem submerged. The album sounds the way light appears underwater in a pool: dreamy and diffused.

Most of these 13 songs (on the standard edition) glow like ghostly neon at 2 a.m., but they also take unexpected detours. The electric guitars that guide “Hollywood Dreams” and “Leaves” turn from fuzzed-out to ricocheting, and Lenny Kravitz even shows up for a cameo on “Face the Sun.”


“Wildheart” is also one of the most unabashed celebrations of carnal pleasures you’ll encounter on a major-label album this year, starting with the album cover. An artist rendered Miguel emerging from the cosmos, shirtless, tattooed, and crouching with his hands on a nude woman bent over in front of him. Talk about truth in advertising.

He declares on “Flesh” that he’s a “slave to your flesh/ Woman, put me right where I belong.” And then he drives home his point on “The Valley,” a NSFW declaration of how he wants to have sex, which is a polite term for what he actually wants to do, as he intently lists his lady’s body parts. Make no mistake: He plans to check each one off his grocery list.

For the R&B purist, Miguel the sweet talker takes over on “Coffee”: “I don’t wanna wake you/ I just want to watch you sleep/ It’s the smell of your hair/ And it’s the way that we fit/ I never felt comfortable like this.”

If there are no obvious radio-ready hits on par with “Adorn,” his massive hit from 2012’s “Kaleidoscope Dream,” there is something more potent in their place: a stone-cold classic not tethered to time, genre, or expectations. JAMES REED

ESSENTIAL “The Valley”

Miguel will perform at the House of Blues
on Aug. 4.

James Reed can be reached at james.reed@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.