Miley Cyrus is a train-wreck. Thank god.
As the first of her generation of pop stars whose entrée into the music world came via teen/tween television shows to fully turn her back on conventional mainstream pop music, Cyrus is a true maverick. Love her or hate her, she’s clearly broken the mold – more than Justin Timberlake was willing to, more than Britney Spears could ever hope to, much more than Ariana Grande or Demi Lovato would ever consider in their wildest dreams.
Cyrus spent the years following her abandonment of teen TV taking raunch to Vaudevillian heights, making a fool of herself with bizarre and tone-deaf awards show appearances, tossing off a middling pop/Hip-Hop album in 2013’s “Bangerz,” making public her complete devotion to (seemingly hourly) bong hits, and basically leaving her Hannah Montana character and the supposed family values espoused by the country music machine that first produced her trampled in the dust and rapidly disappearing in her rearview mirror.
All of this was a mere warm-up, it seems, for “Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz,” a self-released coming-out party of an album, dropped for free via Soundcloud following Cyrus’ Dada-ist appearance at the annual MTV VMA show. It’s a one finger salute of a record, a collection of avant garde pop pieces meant to alienate fans of any of Cyrus’ past incarnations, and an album that is deliriously out of step with anything and everything else going on in mainstream pop. It’s nothing but a hot mess.
Which is at least part of the reason that “Dead Petz” merits the attention of fans of freaked-out post-pop and psychedelic rock. They’re likely to get it. Everyone else will find it unlistenable.
Anyone who consumes and actually purports to like mainstream pop – which today is mostly a lukewarm mélange of kiddie pop, hyper-sexualized texts, Hip-Hop, bad electronic dance music, and plasticized R&B – will hate this over-long grab-bag of stoner snapshots and audio postcards from the land of lollipops, Unicorns and water-pipes that is Miley’s brain. That’s if they even make it past the opening tune, the acid-Hip-Hop mess “Dooo It,” which commences with our heroine declaiming “Yeah I smoke pot!” in a hyper-distorted sneer and carries on to suggest what it might sound like if Lil Wayne dropped LSD before heading to the recording studio for the day.
Which is to suggest that it’s so awful, it comes close to being brilliant.
Most of “Dead Petz” was produced by Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne, and the Lips clearly dictate the direction of the album, even when they aren’t providing all of the audio information. The audience that bought, stole, streamed and embraced “Bangerz” most likely has not heard of the Flaming Lips, a band that exists in a universe bearing no resemblance to the mainstream. The Lips make sometimes jarring, sometimes heart-rendingly beautiful, and always experimental music, and are responsible for several full-length masterpieces over the past 20 years, among them “The Soft Bulletin,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” and “The Terror.” Hearing the band, falling for them, and ultimately befriending them radically altered Cyrus’ musical DNA, in the process, one guesses, doing irreparable damage to dad Billy Ray Cyrus’ achy breaky heart. Oh well. Your job as a parent is to strengthen your kid’s wings so that they can fly away and leave you behind. So, mission accomplished, Billy Ray. Miley has clearly flown the coop.
The first hint that “Dead Petz” is a flawed gem comes via “Karen Don’t Be Sad,” essentially a Flaming Lips ballad that, had it been sung by Coyne, would not have been out of place on the Lips’ “At War With the Mystics” album. It’s a beautiful tune, sung with grace by Cyrus in a voice that is her own. Irony-free, shamelessly melodic, and gloriously tripped-out, “Karen” is the best thing Cyrus has ever done, by a mile or 50.
“Karen” is the high water mark, but whenever Cyrus gets good and weird with multi-layered harmony vocals woven between the strands of a strong melody, and Coyne wraps it all in a gauzy and blurry production, things become compelling and interesting. See “The Floyd Song,” a slab of headphone psych-pop, or “I Get So Scared,” a dreamy power-pop pastiche, both of which help to erase the memory of lesser fare, like the barely forgivable “Slab of Butter” and the far too obvious “I’m So Drunk.”
“Dead Petz” is far too long, could’ve used some editing, and is wildly inconsistent. But at least it’s wild. Career suicide has never sounded like a better time. Good for you, Miley. We raise our cup of spiked Kool Aid in your honor.
Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz