I never in a million years thought I would be moved to write about Miley Cyrus. Still, when one of the most successful pop singers of the current era drops a 23-song double album for free, it piques my curiosity. To be honest, I am not familiar with her previous work in any capacity. I may have heard it in the background somewhere, but I was never prompted to ask, "Who is this?" When I have asked that, the answer has never been Miley Cyrus. Obviously, I don't live in a cave and I'm aware of her cult of personality, her image, and her various shenanigans that continually capture press attention. Until this week, she seemed to me to be a fairly normal 22-year-old woman who knew how to work the media with the best of them. And then she dropped this album for free.
I'm not going to say it's the best album of the year or that it's a must-listen, but it is a creatively constructed, uneven, schizophrenic affair that is pretty rewarding. It's a 92-minute sonic journey that showcases what Cyrus wants to do with music that's important to her, not music that is carefully crafted to make her a shit-ton of cash.
The opening track and single "Dooo It!" is one of the few club-ready songs to be found across this bizarre 92-minute soundscape. "Yeah, I smoke pot, yeah I love peace, but I don't give a fuck. I ain't no hippy" she announces right from the start, when she is not singing that refrain she ponders the sun, birds, the moon, flying saucers, and love. It's a fiery, caustic song that grows on you the more you listen to it. "Dooo It!" and the equally bizarre video that accompanies it will probably be one of the most polarizing songs from this set in the world of Miley Cyrus fans. The album immediately shifts gears into a lovely heartfelt ballad called "Karen Don't Be Sad" and there is an overflowing Flaming Lips influence found here, which makes sense because it was co-written with Wayne Coyne. This is the start of one of my favorite four songs in a row to be found on the sprawling Dead Petz. Her voice is beautiful and the arrangements behind her as well.
The first dead pet to appear on the album is an ode to her dog in the form of the lushly touching "The Floyd Song (Sunrise)," and once more the Flaming Lips are in full swing here. It's pretty and emotional as she ponders death and life without her favorite dog. Turning her attention away from the loss of a beloved, "Something About Space Dude" seems to address loving an emotionally unavailable partner. It has a sparse, spacey arrangement that gently supplies all her voice needs to stretch into the cosmos as she sings, "Something in the way you fuck me, You're never fucking there / I wonder, I should care." It's a cool arrangement for her voice. One of my favorites in the first half of the album has to be "Space Boots," which might appeal to fans of Lana Del Rey, and this one has Cyrus lyrically on her own with Oren Yoel on production. It is lyrically connected to the preceding song, referencing the "Space Dude" and it is once again about missing someone who is emotionally unavailable, as she sings that "I get so high cause you're not here smoking my weed / since you've left I've started to drink, sometimes now when I do drugs I'll start to overthink / I got to be high to deal with your moods." She even muses over the fact that she and this lost lover are both vegan.
The album twists once again with the interlude "Fuckin' Fucked Up" which are the extent of the lyrics for nearly minute. It serves perfectly as an intro to the truly bizarre monologue of "BB Talk" that follows. It's all about an over affectionate lover that seems to be really into PDA — it's both hilarious and touching all at once. It's clear that despite the "super cutie shit" that is weirding her out, there is still an overwhelming love and she pleads in the chorus, "Baby talk is creeping me out, fuck me so you stop baby talking." Once more it shifts back to the more consistent sound that holds this album together, once more Lana fans will flock to "Fweaky." It's a swaying, stoney, piano-based number which talks about shit getting real freaky after a bowl and "after we drank all night, and we done a bunch of pills, and then..."
Mike Will Made It returns from her previous efforts at the helm of production for her ode to lesbian sex, the less-than-subtle "Bang Me Box." It's a pretty great groove, a steamy sexy number that, if all the lyrics in the song didn't drive the meaning home clearly, the finishing of "I want you to bang my box, you say it tastes like cake with my lips against your face, I want you to eat it baby."
I'm on the fence with "Milky Milky Milk", because on one hand the spacey psychedelic number that it is, is pretty great, but the creepy intro that precedes it is not and it's off putting. It seems to be as cosmically concerned as it is sexually charged, sometimes in one line alone like "Your lips get me so wet, while I'm singing all the verses from the Tibetan Book of the Dead." The outro of the song references another song in the set which is soon to follow, not unlike the previous songs about the "Space Dude." "Cyrus Skies" is another number with The Flaming Lips heavily in tow. It's a heartfelt number to be sure, but in the end it doesn't leave much of an impression. "Slab of Butter (Scorpion)," which was referenced in "Milky"; on the other hand is one of the best songs of the album. It's a sexy, psychedelic number about fucking once more, in no uncertain terms. Mike Will Made It, Flaming Lips, Ryder Ripps, Jon Baken join Cyrus on the production for what is the centerpiece of the entire album. It's dizzyingly brilliant.
"I'm So Drunk" is another interlude piece that sounds like it may have been recorded on an iPhone app, with the lyrics being entirely "I'm so drunk I can't even explain how I feel right now." While that may seem a throwaway, it's a great intro to "I Forgive Yiew" which is another club number and one of the few danceable numbers found here, while being catchy as all hell. It also has one of the best lines on the album with "How dare you bring another chick in our bed, you're lucky I'm doing my yoga or you might be dead." What's amazing, is that amidst the profanity and the beats, it's actually a pretty soul searching song lyrically. With Yoel producing once more, "I Get So Scared" is appealing in a very likeminded way to "Space Boots"—there is a similar breathy wonder to it. It has a minimal arrangement which serves to concentrate on Cyrus' wistful vocal delivery. "Lighter" is simply beautiful and sounds like it could have easily made it to an RCA album, except the chorus is "And you roll another one, you wanna get higher, and when I need the fire, you're always my lighter." It's simply a pure, unadulterated love song with some fantastic lyricism.
Wayne Coyne's influence is definitely felt on the trippy-as-hell "Tangerine." A spacey, acid dipped slow burner that begins with, "Sun Gods crest upon his azure shield, shows you what you know, ain't what you feel . . . The sun is a giant spaceship tangerine, it shoots out rays of hopeful golden morphine." Add to that, you have Big Sean right in the middle with an equally trippy rap, and this is one of the wildest numbers here. "Tiger Dreams" seems to be a companion piece to this, in an equally druggy mood, with twisted imagery of being eaten by Tigers, meditations on death and some criticism of "religious fucks." It also happens to feature Ariel Pink. This entire passage of the album is heavily medicated and heavily fascinating. The finale of this three-song cycle comes with "Evil Is But a Shadow," which comes across as druggy in a Portishead sort of way. These three songs are slightly hypnotic all together and lulls you into a bit of a haze.
This leaves you unprepared for hook-heavy "1 Sun" that follows, and it's one of the pure pop moments on the album, with Cyrus referencing Grace Jones quotes and sounding a bit like a cross between Debby Harry and Annie Lennox. It's also one of the few songs on the album without anything patently offensive in it at all. There is a lot of heavy handed cosmic thoughts, but they are delivered with class. It's simply a fantastic song in no uncertain terms. "Pablow the Blowfish" is a slow, sad piano ballad about the loss of her pet fish. It may seem a little silly, but there is a lyrical passage about going with friends to get sushi and how "watching my friends eat my friends ruined my appetite" which is just endearing. The song is cute, sad, and weird at once. With wordless vocals, strings, and yes, Tibetan singing bowls, "Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz" is a fascinating interlude that leads to the finale. Though lyrically it's completely absurd, "Twinkle Song" is probably my favorite song on the entire album. It's just a beautiful dream piece with only Cyrus and her piano, nothing else, no fancy arrangements, no flourishes — just that voice and that piano. Sure, in the dream imagery David Bowie teaches her how to skateboard, she goes on safari, gets chased by monster (or aliens), gets trapped in a helicopter. My favorite passage: "And I had a dream, we robbed the record store, the one with the yellow door, we stole every goddamn record they had, and I had a dream, that I didn't give a fuck, but I give a fuck." The lyrics may seem nonsensical, but it's a powerful ending to an endlessly captivating album.
Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is an interesting and utterly fascinating journey in its entirety. RCA Records has not allowed this to be part of her official contract, but they have allowed her to release it on her own. It begs the question though — how will Cyrus want to remain a part of the pop machine, before wanting to do another record like this? How long will it be before she only wants to do records like this or even more experimental. The girl's got pipes, and looks and she's intelligent as hell; it's only a matter of time before she's making the music she wants to make, that she's capable of making and letting nothing get in the way of that. This album is a step in that direction. I'm looking forward to it. This may not be the best album of the year, but it may be the most intriguing. It's worth it to take the necessary time to get into this album and stay there for a while.