Review Summary: Despite a cheesy cover, Miguel furthers the push to move R&B out of R. Kelly's closet and back into the serious music conversations.
Don't jude a book by its cover - no truer words have ever been frequently quoted, especially in literature and music. I absolutely hate the cover of this album, so much so that I put off listening to it when it was first critically lauded. Then, Pitchfork implored their faithful readers to pick it up, furthering my skepticism. It took one of my friends to tweet about how lucky we were to get Frank Ocean's "Thinking 'Bout You" and Miguel's "Adorn" in the same year; boy, was he ever right: this album feels like a gift, insight to Miguel's mind. It was that little bit of pathos that put me over the edge, and I finally checked out Kaleidoscope Dream.
Never have I had so much fun listening to an R&B album. Miguel is the perfect blend of talent and humor, a true showman. And then I heard him on the radio. I was shocked, then people were shocked I didn't know Miguel from the radio. One of the defining traits of a hipster is that they are always quick to give up on something that's mainstream - one fault among many. Did the fact that I had been enjoying a radio artist bother me? No. I'm not trying to refute any accusations of being hipster, there is an actual point behind this: It makes total sense Miguel is on the radio, he's great. Everything about him is marketable, but most of all, everything on Kaleidoscope Dream is top-tier music. Even with radio exposure, which will hopefully translate to album sales and further exposure, Miguel has a song like "Pussy Is Mine" on his album, a half-joking, half-sad song that could never be played on the radio. He made this album for a major label, but he only put out what he was confident in. I don't think there were any eye-rolling moments on this album because Miguel is so believable in every hat he puts on, a veritable pop chameleon.
"Adorn" is just as adept as "Thinking 'Bout You" is to open an album, but the twist here is Miguel produced the song, along with getting co-credits on a lot of the other songs, and there are even other songs on here solely produced by the singer himself, "Pussy Is Mine" and "Candles in the Sun". The songs on Kaleidoscope Dream aren't stripped down or simple; they're maximalist, sounding like something Janelle Monáe would sing over -- actually, that would be a pretty amazing collaboration. I can best describe these songs as "What Prince would make, had he been from the year 2032." Miguel's voice is sharp and pointed, effortlessly crafting melodies from thin air. I couldn't tell you a moment on this album that doesn't feel organic, and it's because of Miguel's understanding of his own voice.
One of my favorite moments on the album comes in the last fifty-five seconds of "Don't Look Back" where an undulating synth line, seemingly from nowhere, backs Miguel crooning, finally ending with the line, "It's the time of the season for loving." I don't think anyone else could possibly utter that line with any severity and pull it off. It seems like everything on this album works, which seems harder and harder to do in a genre that was deemed a joke in the late nineties when New Jack took a turn for the worse. It's great to see 2012 have some of the best R&B albums I've heard since Voodoo - it's hard not to use D'Angelo as a benchmark.
The most adventurous part of Kaleidoscope Dream comes with the eponymous song. You may recognize the sample immediately, as it's the same from Eminem's "My Name Is", arguably the rapper's biggest song. To challenge such an institution of a song, and to be completely successful, is something special. He makes it all his own.
While Frank Ocean challenged everything R&B had previously established about sexuality and love, Miguel expands the genre outward, showing a glimpse of growth within itself. And, although Kaleidoscope Dream isn't vying for a top spot on my personal year end list like Channel Orange is, that certainly doesn't discredit anything accomplished on this record. It's witty, fun, adeptly produced, and a much needed release to move R&B out of R. Kelly's closet.