Hear Me Out: Miguel, Kacey Musgraves

By Chris Azzopardi

Miguel, 'Wildheart'

Carnal sex is the gateway to bittersweet romanticism on Miguel's modern-lust-and-love odyssey, "Wildheart." And the pompadoured R&B seducer's third studio album is not beating around the bush. Or is it? In the most literal sense, it is; real-life sex is a raw, uninhibited Xtube clip - at least in Miguel's dirty mind. "I'm your master, babe," the 29-year-old dreamboat declares on "The Valley," getting his rocks off D'Angelo style as a pulsating drone and his fan-inducing falsetto works in conjunction with the song's X-rated setting: the San Fernando Valley, the world's notorious porn mecca. Its sex-positive takeaway is commendable on its own. Miguel, though, is much too artistically discerning for such simplicity (you've obsessively listened to his debut, "Kaleidoscope Dream," right?), and when he contextualizes his sexual desires, he takes you to the third dimension. Sex isn't just sex anymore. It's "coffee in the morning," and, of course, cuddles and conversation - all of which are the basis for "Coffee," the post-fuck phase. And then, maybe it's love ("Waves"). Or maybe it's not... anymore ("Leaves," a devastating dose of summertime sadness). Despite a hypersexualized exterior, there's an unexpected plethora of psychological feelings to sift through on "Wildheart," and an even wider range of musical influences. One of those muses is, without question, Prince. The veteran's presence is undeniable throughout this rock- and electro-infused R&B scorcher, a sumptuous, intoxicating and top-shelf set. Grade: A-

Kacey Musgraves, 'Pageant Material'

Kacey Musgraves was part of the change that country music needed. Guys can love guys and girls can love girls and so what, she proclaimed on "Follow Your Arrow." Though her Grammy-winning breakthrough anthem matter-of-factly advocated for queer acceptance, the 26-year-old Texan was knocking down doors left and right on her defiant gem-of-a-debut "Same Trailer Different Park." That hasn't changed much with "Pageant Material," which works both for and against her. On the follow-up to "Same Trailer," Musgraves assures us she's not done taking the piss out of people who sniff around in other people's business ("Biscuits"), and despite modest fame, she maintains an outsider disposition on the title track. She's also still smoking pot. That easy-going, every-girl authenticity gives Musgraves a leg up on "Pageant Material," when some of the album's weightless songwriting can't live up to its predecessor's sly, no-sweat scribes. "High Time" is a grass-swaying good time that epitomizes Musgraves' sonic simplicity; that feet-up, chill-out sound is her trademark, but on "Pageant Material," it's paired with vague, vanilla riffs that only scratch the surface of family, love and dogma from her seemingly endless supply of "be yourself" stock. Buttons are still being pushed, just not with the same innovativeness as before (remember "It Is What It Is," about casual hook-ups?). "Biscuits" is a fine song, though. And even if it's another shoulder shrug to all the haters, you can't deny the cuteness of every metaphor on "Cup of Tea." "Pageant Material," then, is the dreaded sequel. Same trailer; different, less-interesting park. Grade: C+

Also Out

Adam Lambert, 'The Original High'

Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Adam Lambert to the Serious Phase of his career. The third installment in the rocker's post-"Idol" career isn't merely here for your entertainment. And the makeup? It's gone. Lambert still keeps it in the clubs on "The Original High"; refreshingly, though, he tries on some new chic sounds, venturing outside his glam-rock romps to spotlight some of his most personal lyrics to date.

Joy Williams, 'Venus'

Still biting back tears caused by the cataclysmic split of folk duo The Civil Wars last year? Sorry to say, but Joy Williams' solo comeback album won't do much to dry your eyes. With her soothing, supple voice, Williams distances herself from her rootsy work with ex-bandmate John White only to take on a decent-but-overwrought genre jumble: synthy trip-hop, late '90s Lilith pop and smatterings of too much of just about everything else.

Florence and the Machine, 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful'

The dog days are gone... and so are the days when English super-vocalist Florence Welch unleashed her colossal voice like a fireworks show finale. Her belt still bursts from within the deepest depths of her soul, but on her junior release, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful," it's used sparingly. Welch's career so far has been, in large part, defined by her lung power. Not anymore. This one's a big, beautiful slow-burn.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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