Review Summary: The sound of an artist trying to find his feet.
Along with contemporaries Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, singer-songwriter (and producer) Miguel has been widely lauded as being at the forefront of a progressive movement in R&B that moves beyond the superficial nature of the genre that has come to be associated with mainstream music. Praised for its soulfully eclectic vibe and skilled song-writing, the singer’s second album, Kaleidoscope Dream
(2012), expertly fused together elements of R&B, pop, rock, funk, and soul, to create a cohesive, idiosyncratic sound that at various points recalled mid-1980s Prince. Featuring sparse production, thick basslines, buzzing synths and hazy, reverbed sounds, the album’s hallucinatory rhythms were the perfect accompaniment to Miguel’s narrative of sex, romance, and existentialism, all of which were sang with astonishing sincerity. However, what impressed me the most about Kaleidoscope Dream
was just how focused and cohesive it was in comparison to his 2010 debut album, All I Want Is You
. While many of the qualities that made Miguel’s second album so impressive can also be found on his debut album, artistically speaking, All I Want Is You
is the sound of an artist still finding his feet. Yet despite its flaws, Miguel’s debut album remains a worthwhile listen, one that is filled with considerable promise.
The album begins with ‘Sure Thing’, a great slow-burning track which gets better with every listen. Featuring mournful keyboards and restrained drums which occasionally punctuate through the saturated production, the song’s brooding nature is the perfect accompaniment to the dreamy languor of Miguel’s voice. While lyrically the constant stream of analogies he uses to express his love and commitment sound a little tired (Miguel wrote the song to win back an ex-girlfriend he cheated on), each phrase is sung which such conviction that any misgivings can be quickly excused. Especially when the verse is complemented by a soaring chorus which sees the singer passionately declare his everlasting loyalty: ‘Even when the sky comes falling/ Even when the sun don't shine/ I got faith in you and I/ So put your pretty little hand in mine’, he sings. While Miguel might not possess the vocal acrobatics of the R&B stars of yesteryear, he certainly knows how to utilise his voice to great effect. From the infectious way he holds on to every phrase during the verse to his harmonisation with the chopped-and-screwed hook, it’s Miguel’s vocal contributions that make ‘Sure Thing’ such a memorable track.
Equally impressive is the Salaam Remi-produced title-track, ‘All I Want Is You’, which features a deftly-written verse from rapper J. Cole. Rather than trying to produce something hot, Remi works with the singer’s vocals with the song’s measured boom-bap drums and slick, jangly guitar complementing Cole and Miguel perfectly. Featuring a haunting organ hook throughout, the track sees a regretful Miguel plead for his ex-girlfriend to return, realising that what they shared was something special. The reggae-tinged ‘Quickie’, on the other hand, finds the singer in a confident, seductive mood: ‘I don’t want to be loved/ I just want a quickie/ No bite marks, no scratches and no hickeys’, he sings. While on paper these lyrics sound incredibly cheesy, such is the sincerity of Miguel’s delivery that we instantly believe his desire for a ‘quick fix’, as he puts it, making for a fun, catchy track.
One of the most noticeable differences between Miguel’s debut album and its follow-up, Kaleidoscope Dream
, is that stylistically All I Want Is You
is much more varied. What made Miguel’s second album so great was the way in which its wide-ranging influences were mixed together to form a cohesive, idiosyncratic sound, one that became instantly identifiable with the singer. All I Want Is You
, on the other hand, lacks a real identity. Songs like ‘Quickie’ or the club-orientated ‘Pay Me’ for instance, are completely at odds with the brooding, introspective songs that preceded them, raising the question: who is the real Miguel? It’s a question that All I Want Is You
fails to answer.
The second half of the album sees Miguel occupy more conventional R&B territory, with the singer sounding extremely comfortable. Still, there are some great moments to be had, such as the memorable bridge of ‘Girls Like You’ and the seductive ‘Vixen’, a track which combines the singer’s delicate vocals with subtle guitar work and a great off-kilter beat. Then there is ‘Teach Me’, the best song on the album. Taking inspiration from Purple Rain
-era Prince with its thick bass and spacey synths, the track sees Miguel beg to be let in on what pleases his woman, adding lavish strings and heavily distorted guitar to create a magnificent climax.
All things considered, All I Want Is You
is a solid debut album that showcases Miguel’s considerable talent. While the album may not be as focused or cohesive as his 2012 follow-up Kaleidoscope Dream
, there are still some great songs that fans of the singer and/or fans of R&B in general will enjoy. In short, All I Want Is You
is an album filled with potential, potential which Miguel would begin to realise on his second album, Kaleidoscope Dream
‘All I Want Is You’