Hindsight is a hell of thing, and it’s with a safe distance we can now say that Bangerz was most definitely the most interesting thing to happen to the pop landscape since Britney’s Blackout back in 2007. Cyrus used it as a fantastic trampoline for attention, and whether you loved her or hated her, you couldn’t escape her. She lost out on Time’s 2013 Person Of The Year to Pope Francis, and a more perfect example of her all-pervasive nature simply couldn’t be imagined. Now that we’ve just about acclimated to the tongues-out, twerq-heavy make-over, and she’s only gone and Beyonce’d an album with neo-psych-rock outfit The Flaming Lips. Our initial reaction was pretty much the same as when Lady Gaga put out that jazz LP; thanks, but no thanks.
The first listen is absolutely daunting – twenty three tracks, over an hour and a half long, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that most of it was unfinished demos. Where is the crystal clear production from Bangerz gone? It’s so meandering and weird, what does this album even want to be? However, long before you get near the end, you realise there might be something approaching genius at work here. Cyrus wrote or co-wrote every track, as well producing or co-producing most of them, too. Aside from The Flaming Lips, there’s some Bangerz holdovers in the form of Mike Will Made It and Oren Yoel, and with the number of producers having dropped exponentially from that album, its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink feel is gone. There is a ghost that this is the album Ke$ha wanted to make with Warrior before Dr. Luke realigned her back towards electro-pop.
Anyone who has heard first single ‘Dooo It!’ and feared this was as poppy as it was going to get will have their fears assuaged, but not by much. The heavy 808 beats and warped vocals might bring to mind an unfriendly, unwelcome cousin to ‘We Can’t Stop’, but there are some moments when Cyrus sounds like she’s aiming a little more mainstream, even as the content remains very much out there. ‘I Forgive Yiew’ is the closest thing to something that would’ve fit neatly on to Bangerz – all upbeat synths and an instantly catchy (if expletive filled) chorus. ‘Space Boots’ sounds like HAIM attempting to channel David Bowie, ‘Milky Milky Milk’ deals with a very particular sexual act being described in great detail against a tense, pounding techno-beat, while ‘I Get So Scared’ and ‘1 Sun’ have the potential to be the next ‘Wrecking Ball’ and ‘Adore You’.
Cyrus is clearly in more control of her own natural talent than ever before – her huskiness breaking out on the lo-tempo likes of ‘Karen Don’t Be Sad’ and ‘Something About Space Dude’, or the sprawling, aching ‘Cyrus Skies’. But these slower moments also reveal some of the album’s less-well thought out efforts; ‘Evil Is But A Shadow’ is probably the most demo-sounding track here, and its message is so painfully melodramatic, it’ll undoubtedly be the most skipped track. ‘The Floyd Song (Sunrise)’ is about her dead dog, while ‘Pablow The Blowfish’ is about her dead blowfish, and it’s unclear if the emotion behind these tracks are intended to be taken on face-value or if there’s a message that even the most brazen of ballads can be about something a little less serious.
Less unclear are the likes of ‘BB Talk’ when she dismantles her current beau for being so pro-PDA, or pushing the self-destruct button on Hannah Montana once and for all on the barely-there subtlety of ‘Slab Of Butter (Scorpion)’ and the overtly sexually explicit ‘Bang Me Box’; there’s a humour and self-aware intelligence that puts to bed any sense of her being a product or puppet for those top-floor money-men. Then there’s ‘Fweaky’, which is basically the most pro-drugs anthem outside of a Snoop Dogg record. In fact, the entire album feels like it would be best enjoyed as the soundtrack to burning one down – the hazy highs and hazier lows following no set of rules but their own.
There’s so much going on here that the fact that guests such as Big Sean and Ariel Pink, that are here to be enjoyed, are eclipsed entirely by the all-engulfing presence that is this new Miley Cyrus. Just as massive pop stars like Shakira or Nelly Furtado would break up their big-budget albums by releasing LPs in their native tongue, Dead Petz sounds like Cyrus letting loose who she really is before she has to get back to work and make the money necessary to allow these sojourns. Fractured, stuttered, incomplete and yet brimming over with potential, this is an interesting, confounding, sometimes hugely entertaining interlude that is likely to spurn on more conversations than just about any other album this year, pop or otherwise.