Miley Cyrus doesn’t give a fuck. Or so she badly wants you to believe. Since abandoning her Disney-pop stardom, Cyrus has done everything in her power to make sure that when you think of her, the face that appears in your head has its tongue out. Her first opportunity to trot out her new persona came with 2013’s Bangerz, and it seemed from the lead single “We Can’t Stop”, that the LP might follow through on her new, perpetually-stoned, trap-addled identity.
Disappointingly, though, subsequent singles seemed to prove that she really did give a fuck, or at least that her label did. Straightforward ballads “Wrecking Ball” and “Adore You” were the hits they needed to be, but completely abandon the album’s selling point. I mean: the tracks don’t mention even once how much she loves to get high!
At least conceptually, then, Cyrus’s new album Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz — surprise released after a truly strange show-closing performance at the great cultural meme-machine, the VMAs — is Cyrus finally making good on that promise. The album seems like career-suicide, a 23-track, 92-minute slog that includes both moments of genuine pop-euphoria and also 45-second track called “I’m so Drunk”.
Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article about a contemporary of Miley’s, the Canadian pop-songstress Carly Rae Jepsen, infamous for her underrated, if overplayed 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe”. In the piece, Jepsen’s manager Scooter Braun is quoted as saying: “We had the biggest single in the world last time and didn’t have the biggest album. This time we wanted to stop worrying about singles and focus on having a critically acclaimed album.” Jepsen’s mission statement was clear: create a pop-album that appeals to the critics. The resulting LP, Emotion, has all the tunes without any of the personality. On each track, Carly’s forced into a new direction by her collaborator — of which there are many: Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and perhaps indie-rock’s most in-demand producer, Ariel Rechtshaid — which to be fair, produces some stellar songs, but audiences are left without a real impression of Jepsen.
But this couldn’t be less true of Cyrus. There is no mistaking who she’s trying to make you think she is. Miley Cyrus smokes pot. Miley Cyrus gets drunk. Miley Cyrus doesn’t give a fuck. Miley Cyrus is just crazy!
That aside, Cyrus is undoubtedly cooler than Carly Rae Jepsen. Her collaborators make messier music, their presence isn’t touted and exploited, and her intentions aren’t so unsubtly and unabashedly plastered all over the New York Times. Cyrus wrote most of this album with The Flaming Lips, and their presence is very clear — their mixture of joyous-weird, pot-addled paranoia and arty-ness, with sprinkled in occasional-poignancy, actually works very well with Miley’s new shtick.
Several publications have implied that they believe Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz is some sort of pseudo-career suicide, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s a real one. For one, I don’t know how much crossover there is between fans of The Flaming Lips and fans of Miley Cyrus. Not to generalize, but I don’t think the average teen plans on blasting “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” on their way to school, and I’m sure that Burning Man radio is playing very much Miley Cyrus.
I don’t feel even a little bit embarrassed admitting I immensely enjoy listening to the first 7 tracks on this album, some of which are charming in the same boy-and-pot obsessed way the first Best Coast album was (“Space Boots”). Some of which are charming just for their laid-back, listenable arrangements (“The Floyd Song (Sunrise)”, and “Something About Space Dude”). And some of which are charming because they’re stirring, excellent, completely-out-of-left-field ballads (“Karen Don’t Be Sad”).
The first part of the album feels almost coherent, with songs referencing and building on each other, and the production a healthy mix of acoustic and synthetic. “Fuckin Fucked Up”, though, signals a change. After that brief, but obnoxious, interlude comes the ABBA-reminiscent “BB Talk”, which could’ve easily been the album’s lead single if not for every verse being a Miley-monologue admonishing an over-zealous lover (“Your BB talk is freaking me out!”). I’m endeared to the song because of this; that one of the sharpest hooks on the album (“Fuck me so you stop BB talking”) has been paired with some of the least single-ready verses the album contains.
After that though, the album falls apart somewhat — and with 16 tracks to go, it’s not really a good sign. The album’s lumpiness throughout the next few tracks can be easily attributed to the shift in production, which is handed to Atlanta-hit-maker MikeWillMadeIt, who fumbles every track he produces with the exception of one “I Forgive Yiew”, a goofy, passive, anthemic pop song that might be one of the only welcome listens in the album’s latter half, bringing to mind the sogginess of a once vibrant, crackling cereal left too long floating in the bowl.
Songs that may once have seemed like interesting enough larks are now difficult to stomach, like the 4:35 “Evil is But a Shadow”, or, even worse, the preachy and predictable “1 Sun”. It really is all you might think it is.
In short, it’s exceptionally easy to get fatigued when sorting through Cyrus’ mess. She’s up partying much after listeners have chosen to let their heads hit the pillow. Perhaps this is why the spare piano-and-Miley closing track “Twinkle Song” seems as touching as it does. Despite opening with the actual lyric: “I had a dream David Bowie taught us how to skateboard but he was shaped like Gumby,” the song is able to pull you back in later when she passionately sings “I had a dream that I didn’t give a fuck. But I give a fuck. I miss you so bad, I think I might die.”
Perhaps this is what the album is all about. On top of unbearably attractive melodies, Cyrus sings a whole lot of total bullshit nonsense, making the somethingness so much more satisfying. Whether or not that was her intention anyway, Cyrus and co. have made a true mess of a record, one whose pop-potential cannot be denied, certainly, but also one bursting at the seams with redundancies. So, of course, is pop music, though, which is probably why Miley’s fighting so hard to stand out.