When Miguel lamented inequality and its manifestations on the closing track of Kaleidoscope Dream, it seemed forced, heartfelt as it was, like the singer was reaching to display some depth. It didn't help that the penultimate number was "Pussy Is Mine." After the sleazier Wildheart, his second Top Five album, human rights issues naturally fueled Miguel's writing to a greater extent, as heard on War & Leisure. Although direct references to various intensifying issues are saved for the sparse finale "Now" -- in which police brutality, immigration, polluted water, and inadequate disaster relief all get time -- the majority of these songs are at least loosely inspired by the distressed climate. Miguel sings of being a vigilante and rebel, of "terror on her mind," and Korean missiles. Some references to his own armament aren't metaphorical. Space made for not one but two of the six featured guests, Rick Ross and J. Cole, is filled with nods to Colin Kaepernick. And then there's the buzzing, clomping "City of Angels," drawn from the perspective of an unfaithful lover who was out of town, caught up in a fling, while his woman was victimized by a ruinous attack on Los Angeles. For all the conflict imagery, War & Leisure is often brightly colored, even upbeat. Best of all is "Pineapple Skies," a joyous tropical escape and a rare modern R&B love song that illustrates a blooming relationship pre-consummation ("I ain't kissed you yet"). Close to that is the ecstatic, delightfully off-center "Told You So," expressed with a similar sense of optimism ("I don't wanna control you, I'm gonna set you free"). Smut does remain in supply. "Caramelo Duro" churns and grinds like nothing else in Miguel's catalog. He wants to "fuck all night" in "Come Through and Chill," a song with other signs that it was written while his songwriting faculties were somewhat compromised ("Hello stranger, vape's been waiting/And just as I recall, that ass is still amazing"). In another lusty cut, he's some kind of polyamorous cult leader. It all goes down easy with undeniable charm and sinuous hooks to spare. That yearning howl is in full effect too.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman