Miley Cyrus – Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz
Released: August 30, 2015
Two years ago Miley Cyrus broke America when she stuck her tongue out and twerked on Robin Thicke at the VMAs. I still don’t know why everyone was so surprised. Former agents of Disney have been growing up and misbehaving for years and everyone always reacts like it’s the first time it’s ever happened. For Miley Cyrus, it was only a matter of time. Bruno Mars gave the performance of a lifetime and no one noticed because Miley stole the show (Side note — Isn’t it weird that Bruno Mars still seems like an underdog, even post-“Uptown Funk”?). In the wake of that infamous performance, Miley Cyrus transformed her image. She morphed into a confrontationally strange and sexual artist who is always performing.
Miley Cyrus hosting the VMAs in 2015 made a lot of sense. I got exactly what I expected. It was off-beat, self indulgent and intentionally ‘shocking’. Plenty of typically VMAish things went down and that was all just fine, but at the end, something really insane happened. Miley Cyrus took the stage with Her Dead Petz band aka The Flaming Lips and they performed a real peculiar track called “Dooo It!”. An instant later a new she dropped a free album on SoundCloud and we were ushered into a new era of Miley Cyrus.
Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz will take you on a mind bending journey. It’s 92 minutes of madness and it is not for the closed-minded or weak-willed. It’s a sex fueled psychedelic odyssey through the mind of one of the America’s most divisive pop artists. Largely produced and co-written with Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz features 23 tracks of wildly surreal psych-pop and rock. If you thought Bangerz was a plot twist in the career of Miley Cyrus, just wait until you hear this monstrosity.
In the time since Bangerz, Miley Cyrus made some serious upgrades to her bench. She befriended legendary indie rock odd-ball Wayne Coyne and I guess he became her muse. Or maybe the other way around. Bangerz mastermind, Mike Will Made It produced five songs and manages blend the album’s psychedelic haze with a more radio-ready template. With guests like Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel, Big Sean and Ariel Pink, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz sounds like a mad pop chemist’s terrible experiment gone horribly right.
The Flaming Lips provide a breathtaking soundscape for Cyrus’ undeniable vocal talents to operate and that’s the real magic of Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. The more time I spend with these songs, the more I realize how perfect this pairing is. The Flaming Lips have always had a tenuous relationship with pop music; too weird for mainstream appeal, too pop sensible to get totally lost on the fringes. As Miley Cyrus approaches her strangeness critical mass, who better to usher her through to the other side of mainstream than Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips?
To be fair, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is a deeply flawed record. It’s messy and bloated. It starts with perhaps the worst song on the album. It’s occasionally incoherent and way too long but even at its worst, it’s never boring. She sings as passionately about her ex-lovers as she does about her dead pet blowfish. Her goofiness and trademark brashness resonate clearly throughout the album without ever seeming too disingenuous. Her lyrics are often comically simple but there is some revelatory substance here too. She shows off influence from other divisive pop provocateurs like Madonna (“Bang Me Box”), Lana Del Rey (“Cyrus Skies”) and Lady Gaga (“1 Sun”) but she toes the line and never sounds entirely derivative.
For all its flaws, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz contains some staggeringly great moments. The gorgeous atmospherics and delicate escalation of the bitter-sweet “Karen Don’t Be Sad” sounds as good as anything The Flaming Lips have released in their 30 year career. The ex-lover monologues and soaring chorus of “BB Talk” make for an unlikely but irresistibly charming tune. “Tiger Dreams” featuring Ariel Pink is a hypnotic drone that blooms into a hypnotic sprawl of cosmic textures and harmonies. “Bang Me Box” is maybe the least subtle song about sex I’ve ever heard but Mike Will Made It brings his A game and they make it work. The nostalgic electro-ballad “Lighter” is slick and uncompromising Mike Will Made It track primed for mainstream consumption. As Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz winds down, Cyrus mourns the death of her blowfish Pablow, and though the minimal piano ballad borders on the absurd, the emotional breakdown at the end sounds real enough for me. In the final moments of the album, Miley Cyrus describes her dreams and pushes the limits of her voice, crying out “What does it mean?” and I’ll be damned if it give me the chills when I heard it.
Maybe I’m just a sucker and a poptimist, but Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is provocative, entertaining and deliriously imaginative. It’s so easy to assume that all pop music is created in a lab by a team of songwriters, producers, and marketeers. It’s natural to be eagerly dismissive of any artist with famous parents or a Disney pedigree. We can ignore the artistic integrity of someone like Miley Cyrus for a million reasons but I choose to believe that at the core of this desperately outlandish human being, there is a real desire to create something meaningful and original. This album never feels like an orchestrated act of dissent but rather a genuine stride into uncharted territory. Plenty artists started with disposable careers and changed course to become more artistically viable; who is to say that Miley Cyrus isn’t next? Set aside the incessant Instagrams, tongue waggling and brash self-indulgence, and you might realize something truly shocking: Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is a bizarro pop masterpiece.
Top Tracks: “Slab of Butter (Scorpion) feat. Sarah Barthel”, “Lighter”, “BB Talk”, “Tiger Dreams feat. Ariel Pink”