#16. Miguel: Wildheart

Usually when an artist follows up a streamlined, singles-oriented hit album with a more personal, creative project that values textures over hits, the latter is overshadowed by its predecessor. Case in point: Fleetwood Mac’s singles-heavy Rumours is one of the best selling albums in history, and its more creative follow-up Tusk sold exponentially less copies even though it was still a success. Miguel’s last album Kaleidoscope Dream was all about the singles, and it was a huge commercial triumph thanks to songs like the smash hit “Adorn.” Still high on its success, Miguel decided to take a bit more artistic freedom with his raw new album Wildheart. What’s impressive about this latest release is that even though it’s far more creative and less preoccupied with singles than its predecessor, it might become even more of a critical success.

More than anything else, Miguel is having fun on Wildheart. Perhaps he was so satisfied with the acclaim of his last album that he decided to sit back and not worry about this one's public reception. Whatever it is, he sounds freer than he has in a while. The pristine, polished synths of Kaleidoscope Dream are frequently replaced with hazy electric guitars. Miguel doesn’t sound like he’s performing in an arena silhouetted by neon lights anymore; on Wildheart he’s playing on a small stage under dim red lights surrounded by smoke machines.

His subject matter hasn’t evolved as much as his sonic textures—Miguel’s still got sex on the brain. But he sings about it like a rock star this time around, not an R&B icon. A gritty edge sinks into his traditionally smooth voice on cowbell- and electric guitar-driven misty jam “waves.” The halftime chorus of “…goingtohell” isn’t immediately a standout moment of Wildheart but its static, repetitive guitar riff will stay with you for days.

In the past, Miguel’s collaborations felt more like attempts to associate himself with whichever artists were currently popular. Clearly there’s no such ulterior motive on Wildheart. Kurupt was far from the most relevant rapper out there in 2015—he was invited to rap on “NWA” because he fits right into the vibe of the old school jam. Likewise, Lenny Kravitz’s guest appearance on album closer “face the sun” is an unexpected but apropos pairing. Miguel is not just bundling hits together here, he’s crafting a cohesive, original soundscape. Yes, songs like “Coffee” did see radio play, but he doesn’t seem to care as much for the time being. Hopefully Miguel capitalizes on this reinvigorated artistic freedom, because Wildheart might be the best album he's ever made.