Miley Cyrus - Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2015-09-01

It’s hard to think of any pop star who’s evolved as fast and as unexpectedly as Miley Cyrus. Just two years ago, it seemed like everyone in the world had an opinion on her transformation from cute Disney starlet to teeth-licking, pill-guzzling party girl.

While such an transition seemed broadly in line with the well-trodden path laid out for post-Madonna female pop starts (think Britney, Christina etc), what followed definitely was not: dancing on stage with people dressed as cannabis leaves, launching a charity for homeless LGBT youth (The Happy Hippy Foundation), discussing her ambivalence to her body, sexuality and gender identity in interviews, stepping out with genderqueer writer Tyler Ford; it’s become increasingly hard to write Cyrus off as just another try-hard attention-seeker, even for us die-hard cynics.

A big factor in Cyrus’ steady march to credibility has been her collaborations with The Flaming Lips, which began on 2014 Beatles covers album With a Little Help From My Fwends and continues here with a new album mostly produced by the band. That a group of such enduringly cool status as The Lips think Cyrus is a cool person to collaborate with automatically bypasses the usual sniping that occurs when a pop star (especially a female one) makes a bid for indie cred. But that probably still won’t help if Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is, ahem, a real dog’s dinner.

At 23 tracks, it’s a sprawling affair. When the first thing you hear if Cyrus’ fuzzed-out voice barking “Yeah, I smoke pot!”, the message is pretty clear that those involved in this album’s creation haven’t felt much need to censor or edit themselves. Still, first song ‘Dooo It!’ is a forceful opening statement, sounding like Miley’s ‘We Can’t Stop’ smashed into pounding industrial chaos by MIA on a wrecking ball.

Perhaps with an eye on keeping the pop fans sweet, second track ‘Karen Don’t Be Sad’ is a rather lovely, twinkling ballad, its processed beats lifted by acoustic guitars. It sounds like Scissor Sisters' ‘Mary’ crossed with The Lips’ own ‘It’s Summertime’, and Cyrus’ voice has more than a hint of Wayne Coyne’s melancholy rasp about it. Unfortunately, it’s followed by another similar but inferior ballad called ‘The Floyd Song (Sunrise)’ (about her recently deceased dog, hence the album’s title), on which Miley’s diva bellow rips through the delicate production like hot piss through wet toilet paper.

Yet another ballad follows, the spectral ‘Something About Space Dude’. Its fumbling acoustic guitar and lo-fi electronic hum is as far away from her previous album, the self-descriptive Bangerz, as it’s possible to get, but it feels a little inconsequential, unfinished.

Thankfully, ‘Space Boots’ ups the heart-rate with some well realised, 80s-tinged chillwave. Miley drops some more drug references. If you think that’s a bit sad, remember what you were like at her age.  

‘BB Talk’ sees Cyrus talking candidly about what she loves and hates about her boo in a way that puts me in mind of Prince’s classic ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’. After this comes ‘Fweaky’, which comes on like a tender piano ballad but, as the name suggests, turns out to be about getting baked and bonking all night. Prince’s purple spectre also hangs heavy over ‘Bang Me Box’, a slick funk number about… ah, you can guess.

‘Milky Milky Milk’ flips the dial back towards the cutting edge with some fuzzy glitch-hop, paving the way for the album’s truly outstanding moment. ‘Cyrus Skies’ is a toweringly gorgeous, majestically swooping ballad pitched between Dummy-era Portishead and early Goldfrapp, a Bond theme in waiting on which Cyrus sings in a smoky baritone we haven’t heard from her before. It’s held together by some spine-tingling electronic wobbles and stutters, building to an irresistible, undeniable denouement.

The high continues on ‘Slab of Butter (Sorpion)’, chopped ‘n’ screwed space-hop which sounds like Air’s Moon Safari being gate-crashed by Kelis and her milkshake. “The only laws I obey are the ones I'm makin' for myself,” Miley sings, and for once it doesn’t sound like an empty boast. ‘I Forgive Yiew’ is another cracker, solid gold pop crafted from weird swoops, whooshes and tinkles.

After this, the more conventional pop balladry of ‘I Get So Scared’ and ‘Lighter’ are a bit of a comedown, although with mournful cello and stuttering, twilight synths, they’re still a cut above most of the shit that gets in the charts these days. The minimalist, warped R&B of ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Tiger Dreams’ (featuring Ariel Pink), however, keep the second half of the album experimental. The latter, which actually sounds like it’s melting, is going to be a particularly difficult listen for any pop fans expecting another ‘Wrecking Ball’.

On the downside, we also get ‘Pablow the Blowfish’, a tear-stained ballad to another of Miley’s departed pets, on which Miley starts sobbing before an abrupt hammer-blow to the piano ends the song. It’s just a bit silly and annoying, really.

‘1 Sun’ name-checks Grace Jones, while closer ‘Twinkle Songs’ recounts a dream about skateboarding with David Bowie, making explicit the lineage Cyrus is aiming for. She’s not there, but with this album she has made the kind of brave, borderline bonkers artistic statement no massive pop star has had the balls to pull off since Madonna and Prince in the 80s.

So that’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz: a big, multi-coloured mess; a defiant, joyful artistic statement, in which its creator makes an unapologetic virtue of her confusion and naivety. If there’s one real problem with the record as a whole, it’s that there are too many ballads. That could be a result of too much weed, though.

Even better, more than half of it is bloody great, weird, life-affirming pop music, while most of the rest is decent enough. Only a few tracks sound like a rich, over-indulged megastar twatting about with her cool mates in the studio.

And even those missteps are forgivable because you find yourself cheering her on, willing her to break the mould even more and do whatever the hell she wants. On the evidence of this album, we finally, finally have a mainstream pop star worth paying attention to. Thank fuck. 

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