Album review: Miguel, 'Kaleidoscope Dream'

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3.5 stars (out of 4)

On his second album, “Kaleidoscope Dream” (RCA), Miguel Pimental drops enough references to his heroes and inspirations that he could be considered a bit of a name-dropper, a clever mimic rather than an innovator. But his checkpoints are more like winks to the past rather than a full-on embrace, little surprises that flow through this 25-year-old artist’s distinctive take on a potentially played-out narrative.

Though his career as a performer got off to a slow start after writing songs for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Asher Roth and Usher, Miguel takes a step up from his conservative-by-comparison 2010 debut, “All I Want is You.” 

The singer with the feathery falsetto creates a fluid, dreamscape environment that floats across eras with a connoisseur’s discerning feel for the telling detail. He touches on the yearning of “Sexual Healing”-era Marvin Gaye on the instant classic “Adorn,” drops a few lines from the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” into “Don’t Look Back,” and folds some of the ‘70s acid-funk of the U.K. R&B cult hero Labi Siffre into “Kaleidoscope Dream.” In “P… is Mine,” he aims for the explicitness (and bawdy comedy) of R. Kelly, but with a more casual, conversational vibe.

There’s a long tradition of albums that essentially serve as soundtracks for one-night stands, and Miguel leaves little doubt about his intentions from the get-go. He crosses the line between seducer and user in “How Many Drinks”: “I’ve got money, but I don’t want to waste my time,” he coos, but then salvages the song and undercuts himself with a surprisingly effective (and funny) rap vocal. These kinds of left turns and tangents arrive with regularity, whether it’s the dripping-faucet percussion and acoustic-guitar coda of “Arch & Point” or the blanket of keyboards that cloaks the sparse bass groove of “The Thrill.” Despite some familiar signposts, nothing is exactly as it seems. “Such a beautiful nightmare,” Miguel sings, “don’t wake me.”

greg@gregkot.com

 

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The Grammys 2011