Released with little fanfare in late 2010 after collecting dust on Jive Records’ shelves for two years, Miguel’s debut album, All I Want Is You, was a stubborn thing. Though its poor initial showing on the charts seemed to affirm the label’s lack of faith in it, the record gradually discovered an audience over the next year thanks to a trickle of ingratiating singles that established Miguel as one of radio’s rarest commodities: a new R&B star. With its splatters of off-kilter funk and mesmeric electro, All I Want Is You teased a unique vision without coloring too far outside the boundaries of popular R&B. On his bolder follow-up, Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel takes full advantage of his new commercial standing by abandoning genre conventions altogether. Few, if any, of his contemporaries have demonstrated this much control over their aesthetic.
Using Prince as a loose starting point—channeling not only the Purple One’s pop instincts but also his loud, funk-rock guitars—Miguel paints each track in such fluid, psychedelic strokes that when “Don’t Look Back” gives way to a fractured cover of The Zombies’ “Time Of The Season,” the transition isn’t even jarring. Almost as notable as the influences Miguel builds on are the ones he downplays. Though rap has been a cornerstone of R&B for the last two decades, it’s almost a non-presence on Kaleidoscope Dream. Only the title track takes on a hip-hop beat—and even then it’s an unconventional one, a bare, old-school groove from Salaam Remi that’s deliberately out of time—and there’s not a single guest rap on the album. In fact, save for a casual Alicia Keys assist on the raggedy soul throwback “Where’s The Fun In Forever,” there aren’t any guests on the album at all.
For all of its phantasmal synths, swollen guitars, and hallucinatory rhythms, Kaleidoscope Dream is a pop record first and foremost, and its eccentricities are offset by Miguel’s disarming songwriting, which finds romance in even the most unlikely situations. “Use Me” posits kinky sex as high intimacy—“My body’s waving a white flag,” he croons tenderly—while the reverb-glossed “Do You…” spins the ostensibly sleazy pickup line “Do you like drugs?” into an irresistibly sweet proposal, imagining lovely, perfectly wasted afternoons spent in a content daze. Kaleidoscope Dream will almost surely attract comparisons to another recent R&B album with its own amiable internal logic, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, and not unfairly, given that both are uniformly excellent. It’s a testament to how singular and fully realized each of these albums is, however, that they sound nothing alike.