A skeptic gives himself over fully to Miley Cyrus’ latest album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz…
by: Christopher Rockwell
I knew I was in trouble when I started nodding my head aggressively when the beat dropped in the opening track, entitled “Dooo it.” I knew right away I should most likely end this little experiment right then and there, or risk wading into waters that I might not emerge from unscathed. You see I have never listened to a Miley Cyrus album, and although her latest, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, is, for all intents and purposes, no ordinary Miley album, I had my preconceptions. I came to the table with a certain set of ideas about who Miley was and what her music sounded like, and shockingly all of those pop-addled prejudices were blown to pieces in just the opening moments of the album. Miley – it is no secret – is a sort of spectacle, one which I avoided almost entirely. Until today that is. Fascination, and a nudge from a friend, drew me towards her most recent release and I decided to give it a spin in one sitting, all one hour and fifty-four minutes of it.
When the second track commenced, a subtle lullaby entitled “Karen Don’t Be Sad,” the influence of The Flaming Lips wasn’t simply obvious, but overcoming. And I mean this in a good way. While their entire catalog doesn’t really do it for me, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips’ tenth studio album, is special to me. With it I shared a moment in time. One where I would get lost in its magical eccentricities. Where I would imagine worlds that resemble those you would find in the pulpy sci-fi comics of the 50s or 60s. In some ways, “Karen Don’t Be Sad” took me to this place, one where I was comfortably numb, back in the safety of the womb. I had heard that Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, had been in the studio working with Miley, and what came of that was his involvement in co-writing eleven of the twenty-three tracks on the album. Wayne and Miley are a unique pairing of talents, and one that seems to be a match in some way. I love when sad songs make me feel anything but, and “Karen Don’t Be Sad” does just that. Only two songs into the album, and remarkably, I’m all in.
“The Floyd Song (Sunrise)” ((Floyd is a reference to her Alaskan Klee Kai who passed away in 2014.)) prompted me immediately to email that friend who shared the album with me, the man responsible for starting this whole thing. “You fucked me, man,” I told him. “You knew this would fascinate me. Now I am waist-deep and I am not turning back.” Before I hit ‘Send’ I am lulled back into Miley’s drug-fueled odyssey as she seductively belows, “Oh Sun” over and over again, both haunting and inviting. What the fuck is going on? This dizzying feeling is heightened with the introduction to the overly subtle, stripped-down “Something About the Space Dude.” As Miley moans, “Something in the way you fuck me,” there’s a palpable honesty that is entirely intoxicating. And it is at this point, early on in this album, where I realize that Miley is working under a different set of rules. Miley, at the vernal age of twenty-two, has complete artistic freedom. She can do whatever the fuck she wants, and is doing just that.
“Space Boots” is a peppier, Wayne Coyne inspired pop song. The simple musings are dreamlike, and rife with that candor I spoke of. “Since you’ve left I’ve started to drink / Sometimes when I do drugs I’ll start to overthink / And I start crying / I think I’m dying / But I’m just tripping spiraling down this hole.” I am taken aback at how much, lyrically and sonically. this resonates with me. “Fucking Fucked Up” jars me too, and I am instantly thinking of Ween. The repetitious, screwball lyrics, the distorted carnival music, all straight out of Chocolate Town. I could never have imagined that I would ever equate Ween and Miley Cyrus, but their oddities such as “So Many People in the Neighborhood” and “Spleen” feel as if they’re coming from a similar place as “Fucking Fucked Up.” Worlds are colliding.
“BB Talk” finds Miley lamenting over lost love. I am not feeling this poppy harmony, accompanied by a rudimentary, pulsating drum beat. But I’m still intrigued. Now more than ever really. Miley’s musings throughout “BB Talk” aren’t simply odd, but borderline disconcerting. The only way to properly communicate what I mean is to share an excerpt:
“Look, I like when you send me, ya know, the queen emoji, but when I send back the monkey, ya know, the ones with the hands over the eyes? That means that shit’s just gettin’ a little too weird for me, and I mean, I don’t know what else to say….in person, I just, like, ya know, bury my head in your armpit, which weirdly smells good, and your hair and fucking teeth. Like why the fuck would I want to lick your teeth? But I do.”
Do you see what I mean? And a chorus of “Fuck me so I stop baby talking” is not what I thought I would be listening to when I woke up this morning. But today is a new day. A different day. I am in Miley’s World now. For this moment at least. “Fweaky,” which follows, is the sort of song I would expect from Miley, and in this way it feels out of place. A piano ballad that blends her sultry murmur with seductive lyrics and minimal piano chords. I am missing the hypnagogic dreamscapes that encompassed the early section of the album, and while “Bang Me Box” fails to return me to that soothing fantasy, the funky bass that drives the song drapes itself around me, and takes me for a ride. Easily the sexiest track on a very seductive album, “Bang My Box” is certainly lyrically comical, but I must admit the first few times Miley wails, “I want you to….bang my box,” I don’t even blink an eye or laugh at the absurdity of it all. All I can think of is that Miley just does not give a fuck!
“Milky Milky Milk” opes as a discordant interlude in the same vein as “Fucking Fucked Up,” but quickly actualizes into a curious love song awash with futuristic, effervescent soundscapes. “I feel like a slab of butter that is melting in the sun / The presence melts away now that you and me are one,” Miley groans as the unabridged weird returns, holding form as the track sweeps into “Cyrus Skies,” a gentle anesthetic that at times makes me think about Portishead, a band that Wayne Coyne used as inspiration for the album. “Cyrus Skies” is a dizzying venture, but it also manifests as the most mature and full-bodied track on the album thus far.
“Slab of Butter (Scorpion)” ((Featuring Sarah Barthel of Phantogram.)) quickly becomes one of my favorites. The beat is animated, spacey and insolent as fuck. “Self-control is not something I am working on,” is the sort of candid confession that I find so enticing. “I want to get fucked up / Want to get fucked up?” Miley asks. Absolutely. Take me with you. I’m half way there. “I’m So Drunk” is exactly the song you would think it to be. Overly cheeky, laced with a plastic, overbearing bass throbbing and fortunately due to its vexatious nature, not long for this world at forty-six seconds in length. “I Forgive Yiew” acts as the saving grace to the frivolous song it displaces. Not truly my cup of tea, but incorporating interesting reverberating atmospheric notes and vibrations. It’s future pop, awash with the pops and sonic squeals like those found throughout Beck’s Midnite Vultures and while fun in many ways, I’m delighted to be brought down to earth with “I’m Get So Scared,” a mellow, straightforward ballad that delicately lulls you in.
It is at this moment where I begin to wonder, What I’m doing? Some of the album’s allure is fading, and this is unsurprising. An album of this length is ambitious, and it’s remarkable my attention was held so comprehensively up to this point. But while fading, I take a moment to think about what has brought me here. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz has the feeling of a demo tape. One where she threw everything she was working on at the wall to see what would stick. But in the end, she left it all there, for the listeners to take from it what they desire. The album feels bold, especially coming from a major pop star. So many who act like they have nothing to lose end up losing what they had, but I have the feeling that this bizarre experiment will only help develop Miley as an artist. And she is already a far greater artist than I had previously realized. The album is a statement of individualism. Miley, a star who has been polished and packaged to the benefit of so many others amid already-lengthy career and is now creating music with her own best interests at heart, and it sounds freeing. It sounds unpolished, but inspired.
Fuck, is this really Miley Cyrus I am talking about?
“Lighter” eases us in to the album’s homestretch with a rhythm that palpitates in a soothing way. It turns out that the gentle ebb and flow is the perfect setup for the gooey soundscapes of “Tangerine,” a track which drudges along sluggishly. Big Sean rhymes over the curdled beat nonchalantly but there is nothing to write home about really. “Tiger Dreams” exhibits Miley’s fondness for downtempo experimental beats. The evocative track features Ariel Pink and its haunting melody, full of visceral imagery, envelops me. It’s a warm bath, one I wished to linger in. It has hints of Air’s “Playground Love” and I am immediately eager to hear it again, but I must move on. “Evil Is But A Shadow” continues in the same spooky vein as “Tiger Dreams.” Since “Lighter,” Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz has endured ominously, thick as mud and bewitching. “1 Sun” breaks this mold with a catchy, determined beat. Hints of 80s synth rock pervade the song as Miley leans political, confessing her fears for our dying planet, “Wake up, world / Can’t you see the earth is crying / Wake up, world / Can’t you see all the clouds are dying.” While surprising in the scheme of the album, Miley’s global concerns are welcome, and wholly refreshing.
“Pabloh the Blowfish,” the twenty-first track on Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, it must be noted, is the song that started it all. The music video for “Pabloh the Blowfish” was what my friend sent me and it was of such intrigue for me that I felt the need to dig deeper. In it, Miley is sitting at a piano wearing grey, hooded unicorn pajamas. Alongside her sits a Super Mario Brothers power-up mushroom and a stuffed unicorn on a stool. Theatrics notwithstanding, I found the track beautiful. It’s about her beloved deceased blowfish of the same name, and towards the end of the video Miley wells up. She can hardly finish the song. It is a unique moment, awkward and surreal. But, the sentiment feels genuine. The hurt, discernable. I had to hear more. So I dove in. And now here I am, touched once again by Miley’s ode to her lost blowfish. “Pabloh the Blowfish” could have been a fitting end to this idiosyncratic album, but it gives way to “Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz” where Miley wails the length of the track, a pronounced cathartic moan. The necessary release of the pain of the prior song.
“Twinkle Song” closes out the album, another delicate and altogether strange ballad. Rampant with outlandish imagery (“I had a dream David Bowie taught us how to skateboard, but he was shaped like Gumby”), “Twinkle song” echoes the thoughts I can’t shake as I try to piece together the album, my attraction to it, and how I move forward in the world after succumbing to the charms of the twenty-two year old enchantress that is Miley Cyrus. “What does it all mean?” Mileys asks over and over as the album concludes, a question we are left to ponder on the heels of a such an experimental mindfuck. I can’t imagine I will give the album another go, maybe a song here and there, but I do not regret giving this album it’s just due. Where uninformed preconceptions once resided, now lies a large measure of respect, and an unique captivation. I am curious where Miley’s peculiar inspirations will take her artistically, and in turn, where she will take us as she grows in craft and understanding. By the enchanting sounds of this genre-defying, unfeigned curiosity of an album, at the very least it will be somewhere exotic.