When Miley Cyrus attempted to break from the Disney mould in 2010 with Can’t Be Tamed nobody could’ve anticipated just how far she’d go. Since then she’s gyrated Robin Thicke and her vagina with a giant styrofoam hand live on stage, stripped off for most magazines and even rapped on a Mike Will Made It track, however, this latest one seems to be the most surprising. Back then it would’ve almost been impossible to anticipate a drug-influenced Miley Cyrus collaboration with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne packaged as a 23 track free album. Actually, two weeks ago it would’ve been impossible to anticipate that but it’s happened and well, it’s not all bad.
The fact is Cyrus broke away from the Disney mould a long time ago. Nowadays, nobody expects her to be Hannah Montana on stage nor on record and we’re somewhat not shocked by her nudity and drug-use now. She’s at the point at her career where she’s an actual grown-up evolving sonically just like Madonna did and even Beyonce to a certain extent if you look at Dangerously In Love as compared to her surprise album. Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz though goes from one extreme to the other in a heartbeat. She’s gone from rebellious pop princess to drugged-up alternative singer in a matter of months and the issue is her fans may not be heading down the same path quite as fast, if at all.
First the bad. The 23 track collection just drags on far too long. Cyrus seems to have been influenced by Coyne’s inability to self-edit and instead of cutting the dead-weight and delivering a knockout, she’s let down the golden moments by a few real shockers. Opener Dooo It! is obnoxious and painfully literal almost acting as a foreword to the album that says “I take drugs, I’m grown and if you think I’m going to stick to the same sound you can fuck off.” Thankfully this one is a stylistic outcast on what is mostly a heartfelt record but her desire to ostracise the old-Miley listener continues on Milky Milky Milk and BB Talk, although the latter is one of the more entertaining moments on the album. She also ruins 1 Sun’s ‘80s-inspired energy with a preachy, ill-informed save the earth lecture.
If you pulled out a chisel and chipped away at this record, you’d uncover a gem. Unbelievably, the good actually outweighs the bad and for all its weaknesses, this is actually some of Cyrus’ best work. Her voice is in its best habitat here and the roughness of the production throughout houses her better than some of the crisp, manicured work on Bangerz.
Coyne’s involvement is the weak link for most of it but he does help out on a few moment of brilliance. Karen Don’t Be Sad is beautifully sparse and benefits from Coyne’s comfortability in imperfection while Tangerine is a woozy daydream weighted by Big Sean’s impressive verse. It seems the pair work when they’re mixing said with elated euphoria and avoiding hallucinations that are really hard to connect with. On Evil With A Shadow, the pair take a trip down a rabbit hole that seemingly just keeps going and going with no resolve. It’s clear both of them suffer from getting carried away and it just happens on so many occasions.
Thankfully Coyne isn’t the only collaborator. Bangerz champion Mike Will Made It is back and unsurprisingly contributes most of the best moments of the LP. Most of his inclusions are on tracks about relationships rather than trips or dead pets and it’s really refreshing. Fweaky is the album’s first really intimate, slow-burning number and acts as a companion to a career highlight for Cyrus. Both of them use notions of drug use but compare them to that feeling of euphoria in a relationship. “When I need the fire, you’re always my lighter,” she sings on Lighter grabbing at the heartstrings ‘80s-tinged thundering percussion. Mike Will even manages to tap in on some of the weirder tracks like I Forgive Yiew which feels like 4x4 replaced country with psychedelia.
Oren Yoel who worked on Adore with Cyrus, returns here for a number of great tracks. Like Lighter and Fweaky, his tracks feel as if they’re channeling the comedown when real life realisations rear their ugly head. I Get So Scared is beautifully tender and forthright with Cyrus singing, “I get so scared thinking I’ll never get over you.” It’s a reminder that while she’s great at being weird and OTT, she’s actually a really honest songwriter with a voice that cuts through emotionally. “I get so high because you’re not here smoking my weed,” she sings on Space Boots, once again combining drugs and relationships for a lonely but poignant image.
As for her dead pets - the dog and the blowfish - they both get a song. The Floyd Song (Sunrise), about her dog that died a few days before her tour feels like another Coyne/Cyrus tangent which is let down by its lo-fi production while Pablow The Blowfish’s melody is touching but its lyrics are hard to swallow, particularly when she breaks down towards the end.
In many ways Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz is exciting. It’s exciting that an artist of her age is willing to take changes and give us something completely off the beaten track, particularly when she is a pop icon. It’s hard to imagine any pop star taking on a song like BB Talk and go on a fuck-filled tangent about cutesy shit and actually pull it off. There’s so much to enjoy here but that’s only if you can stomach it long enough.
Here’s some advice - listen through once, cherry-pick 12 to 14 tracks and make your own Miley Cyrus album. Then you’ll fully be able to sit with the songs and realise that at its core, this album has a really tender heart, beautiful melodies and a voice behind it that’s actually captivating, if not at times infuriating.