During last Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, host Miley Cyrus announced that her new album Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz would be available, bypassing the normal pre-release cycle that a majority of today’s releases go through.
This trend of early, unannounced releases most famously occurred in 2013 when Beyonce surprise released her album Beyonce to the iTunes store in December. The buzz surrounding this surprise album drove sales and the album debuted at number one.
With this new album, Cyrus is continuing her apparent quest to separate her pre-adult country releases and polished pop ballads (a la “The Climb“) from her more recent, edgier releases, like 2013’s Bangerz. Cyrus is notable for making headlines with her stage performances, which are filled with a fair amount of bombast and spectacle (and a fair amount of odd sexuality, which serves to frighten middle-aged housewives); Petz is an extension of her recent neo-psychadelic image, and features production by Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips and indie darling Ariel Pink in addition to hip hop producer Mike Will Made It, who Miley worked with previously to great success on “23.”
With that list of prolific production, I hoped the album would be a blend of Coyne’s excellent sonic layering with the post-punk influence of Pink and Mike Will’s tight production wrapping it all up. Things can only go well, right?
Before I discuss any of the sounds on this album, I’d like to make a quick point: Dead Petz comes in just under the 90 minute mark.
90 minutes. For what is essentially a pop album.
A run time of 90 minutes should be reserved for recordings of major orchestras and film scores, not a pop star’s third album. Unfortunately for Miley, the extended length of this album only highlights the dubious song selection.
From the opening track “Dooo It!”, we’re treated to Cyrus informing us that yes, she does in fact smoke pot. Seriously, the first line is “yeah, I smoke pot.” From there, we get these weird layered vocals, with a distorted Cyrus and what sounds like a pitch shifted iteration of the same vocals going on at the same time. The song goes on to discuss some kind of weird nature-meets-sci fi-meets-universal consciousness ideas, where she proclaims that “water is trees” I think.
*I’d like to bring up another small point here about her production: Cyrus’ vocals sit square in the middle of the mix, in terms of volume. I’m on my third listen through and the lyrics aren’t exactly there for me yet.*
The song ends with Miley asking “Why dey putta dick inda pussy?” as some kind of inside joke maybe?
This transitions into “Karen Don’t Be Sad,” a song about someone named Karen and Miley telling her to keep her head up and not let things get her down. While I appreciate the sentiment, the whole song is delivered in this vaguely sensual, breathy manner, and with Cyrus’ already gravelly voice (as far as female pop stars go, Cyrus is basically Tom Waits), the whole production is reminiscent of someone at a karaoke bar singing something by Karen Carpenter or some female singer-songwriter of that generation.
From here, the album kinda just stagnates. It’s pretty unfortunate that Cyrus seems like she is still trying to operate in the pop spectrum with these ballads that are an obvious attempt to flex her upper range, but without the polish of past releases, her voice just falls flat.
The middle of the album tackles songs about lost love in the song “Something about Space Dude” and “Space Dude” (which has a fair amount of references to not wanting to do drugs to prevent her overthinking, and her decision to drink as an alternative), an interlude called “Fucking Fucked Up” where Cyrus kinda just rambles about existence and perception being one’s reality, “BB Talk,” which is Cyrus talking about how much she doesn’t like when her significant other being sweet and would prefer they just “fuck her” in an effort to stop the talking.
The middle of the album is more of this, with Coyne’s production attempting to cover up Cyrus’ unfortunate vocal stylings on songs that don’t really seem to go anywhere.
The second half of the album is full of features from a couple big names: Sarah Barthel of Phantogram shows up on a song called “Slab of Butter” and we get Big Sean on the song “Tangerine.” Unfortunately, outside of these features, the whole middle HOUR of the album is forgettable. Songs just kinda float along until some arbitrary stopping point, then the next song comes in and the instrumental sounds really nice for the first 15 seconds and then it’s back to being the same floaty, inconsequential nothing lyrics.
The end of the album has a couple out-of-place piano ballads that again only highlight the lack of range in Cyrus’ vocals, and there’s a song about the merits of veganism in there too with “Pablow the Blowfish.”
Overall, this album is a disaster. With the amount of production credits and big names involved, I hoped for something danceable and maybe a tinge of psychadelic sound. What happened is 90 minutes of music that amount to about three ideas:
- Overtly vulgar sexual references
- Overt references to smoking pot, and
- Vague spiritualism and nature worship
The second point is so tired: Cyrus has rolling papers as merchandise at her shows and she’s worn a pot leaf-patterned body suit in concert before. At this point, it’s not edgy anymore; hell, it wasn’t edgy to smoke pot when she started talking about it (it hasn’t been edgy since probably 1967 or so).
I also feel bad for Mike Will Made It. He’s a bigger name in hip hop production today, and he went totally underutilized for this whole album. It seemed like Wayne Coyne got first dibs on a lot of the instrumentals and Mike Will kinda had to sneak in his 808 samples on top of existing drum samples in a lot of places.
I think Cyrus’ intent here was to make an album that would keep people talking about her musical merits. As of late, she’s made headlines with her behavior but not with her music, and the lyrics about mother earth and wanting to save the planet are intended to get people talking about environmental conservation. Even the decision to drop the album in the middle of the VMAs was a calculated effort to get exposure and to make some comparison to Beyonce’s famous surprise release. Where that fails is in the production and delivery: people have to wade through songs about smoking bowls and over-produced soundscapes to get to those lyrics, which pale in comparison to anything Beyonce’s team put together for her last album.