It’s just sad. It’s sad to see someone with talent, especially very specific talents, take them in a direction that doesn’t coincide with their capabilities. And it happens for a variety of reasons, this kind of reaction formation. In the case of Miley Cyrus, she’s going through a musical reactionary period that harks back to the title of the debut album from the Arctic Monkeys, “Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”: You say I’m a country star? I rap. You say I’m a Disney child? I party. You say I’m a role model for young girls everywhere? I twerk.
Although her new album, “Bangerz,” has been out for a couple weeks now, there’s probably going to be talk about it for a while to come. Not so much because of the music, but because of certain viral videos that have made Miley (in)famous for some unbecoming dance moves.
But this is going to be purely about the music and not about twerking. Unless, of course, the music is conducive to that kind of gyration. And it does stand to mention that is a type of music which unfortunately exists on this record.
Starting off the album, “Adore You” and the radio banger of sorts “We Can’t Stop” are, in fact, decent songs. “Adore You” has a cool, twitchy kick-drum lick, and the lyrics are notably neither profane nor mindlessly self-indulgent. Vocally, it’s all there, provided that she doesn’t try to toast, boast, scat or rap through the whole song.
“We Can’t Stop” has some merit to it, somewhere deep down in there. Advocating social and amorous freedoms is a-okay. Loving who we want is gold. Freedom of speech is quintessential American democracy. However, calling to action “all the girls with the big butts” and “trying to get a line in the bathroom” (of a certain illicit white substance, no less) enters a scandalous grey area for any post-Disney kid.
Were it someone not from a squeaky-clean background, no one would care at all. But that’s not the case here. It’s another Disney-gone-disaster case.
And that’s not even the half of it. We’ve not even talked about the third and title track. Basically, it is the disaster. It’s one of the most unlistenable pieces of music to have happened in a while. In her own words, Miley “be struttin’ (her) stuff” with Britney Spears for company. The whole track feels like a twerky, weird, dirty, guilty rave at a truck stop off I-94 in Iowa. And there she goes again with the overt drug references: “hooked on donuts,” a method of cocaine ingestion, says Urban Dictionary.
These questionable life choices only continue and accelerate in the subsequent track, supposedly fortified by an appearance by Nelly, called “4×4,” wherein Miley sings about “driving so fast, ‘bout to piss on myself.” Not only is it laughable, but it’s also a confusing and hokey blend of old-western guitars strummed reggae fashion on the offbeats and a mismatched trappy drum line.
The trap continues on “Love Money Party,” on which Big Sean and Miley delve into the depths — or rather, the shallows — of party lifestyles. Here Big Sean is annoying as ever. It definitely doesn’t help the album fight its already-losing track record.
In between Nelly and Big Sean’s appearances there are a couple of decent tracks: “Wrecking Ball” and “My Darling.” However, the latter sticks out plainly among the pervasive “IDGAF” attitude (actually said verbatim in “Do My Thang”) maintained across the album: “My Darling” sees Miley contemplating marriage and other committal, adult topics. In the context of the rest of the album, it just seems too normal.
And then the maelstrom of bad rapper guest appearances culminates in a 6/8 meter pseudo-blues jam called “FU,” (dis)graced by a dubstep drop and a French Montana verse. It’s just Miley using texting slang as lyrics and sounding paltry-pissed off.
There’s also a Ludacris appearance on the last song on the album. Not even worth talking about.
Somewhere in there, Miley’s made some good music. “Maybe You’re Right” is a real song — not pretentious, not fakey, not something she’s not. She uses that powerful, heart-wrenching Southern twang that made her into a country-pop sensation some years ago, and it sounds great compared to the other, lesser paths she chose to take on the rest of the record.
At the end of the record, the scores are tied: half is good, half is horrible.
The irony is that the track called “Do My Thang” is actually antithetical to following one’s own strengths. Too often on this record Miley’s done something that sounds like a fleeting, futile gimmick. “Do My Thang” sees her doing the opposite. But when she sticks to what she knows — namely writing honest songs that people can relate to and not trying to be a bad-girl sex symbol in the style of Ke$ha — she succeeds.
Perhaps the coolest, least noticed track on the album is “Someone Else,” in which she blends her strengths of power vocals with her apparent trap-influenced dance-desire in a track that’s strong vocally, lyrically and melodically. In the end, that 50/50 score is what the record deserves. It’s all over the place, but that is understandable when taken in the present context.
She seems to be trying to redefine who she is while being bombarded by people telling her what she ought to be. She seems to be facing “The Climb” about which she sang some years ago, and while the twerk did not evidently get her to the top of the mountain, something might in the future — something that’s not a facade.
Artist: Miley Cyrus
Release Date: Oct. 4, 2013