4.5 / 5
Where we are, at any one given point, is an amalgamation of where we’ve been. We are a construct of our family, our experiences, and our own peculiar inner monologue, which filters everything into a narrative by which we construct our own lives around. We live through the anonymous textures of everyday life and it is only through our own self-imposed tyranny that we shape these textures into the service of an artificial plot construction with which we define ourselves.
If injecting Ranciere into a piece on a new Miley Cyrus album seems weird, it’s because 2015 has become exceedingly bizarre.
Miley Cyrus is, of course, the daughter of that guy that created the unfortunate “Achy Breaky Heart” country infatuation that North America endured at the dawn of the Nineties. She is also the breakout Disney star who entranced millions of tweens as Hannah Montana, the girl with the secret rockstar identity. Her career was probably supposed to go like dozens of Disney girls before her: star on her show for a few seasons, transition into singing bland pop songs that fit easily into the Billboard Top 40 for a little while, and then fade out into obscurity. Somewhere along the line something short-circuited. The singer decided to break the narrative, forming her own story out of the textures, rather than submitting to the tyranny of the Disney music mill. Maybe it was the tongue and the twerking alongside ol what’s his name, Alan Thicke’s son. Maybe it was the odd, Gaga-esque fashion choices. Maybe (most likely) it was the influence of mind-altering substances, like the Beatles after meeting Bob Dylan. Ms. Cyrus’ penchant for marijuana has been open for quite some time (video of her hitting the bong surfaced several years ago) and there are myriad references to it on this album.
The influence of drugs, of course, brings us to the real driving musical force behind Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, which is the presence of Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd, the main engine of Oklahoma’s psychedelic madmen The Flaming Lips. Aside from the tracks where superproducer Mike WiLL Made It produces, the fingerprints of Coyne and Drozd are everywhere: the quivering arpeggios, the languid strings, the overblown vocals, and especially the big, fuzzy marshmallow bass, straight out of The Soft Bulletin. “Karen Don’t Be Sad” and “Space Boots” could easily be B-sides from the Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots sessions. “Slab Of Butter (Scorpion)” is a perfect fit for At War With The Mystics. After several albums of noise and experimental psychosis, it’s nice to see the Flaming Lips songwriting team get back to something more pop-oriented, and having Miley Cyrus be the singer on the project is the perfect mixture between balls-out bizarre and absolutely perfect.
On Miley’s part, the lyrics are an odd combination between painfully personal and whimsically open. The former Disney star has been vocal in her embrace of drugs, sex, and genderfluidity, and there’s ample evidence of all three throughout. She lays out her mantra immediately on the opening track, “Dooo It!”: “Yeah, I smoke pot / Yeah, I like peace / But I don’t give a fuck / I ain’t no hippie”. Elsewhere she hilariously admonishes a lover for using baby talk all the time with her while admitting that they’re really, really good at the physical stuff; she ends “BB Talk” by telling said lover that she fucks them simply so that they’ll shut up. “Bang Me Box” gets filthy, right down into biological descriptions of arousal. On the other hand, “Pablow the Blowfish” is a rather whimsical song of being crushingly sad that your pet is dead and gone, and “Twinkle Song” is a ridiculously catchy acoustic number about dreams, meaning, and coping with death.
That’s Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz in a nutshell, really: one foot in adulthood, one foot still tentatively in childhood, her eyes on the sky and her head in a cloud and her mouth on a bong. It could use a good edit, since 23 tracks is a bit much, but that’s ultimately beside point. It’s simultaneously entrancing, infuriating, painful, wise, and very, very good. It’s messy and indulgent and noisy and willfully bizarre, much like MAYA, or They Were Wrong So We Drowned, or Yeezus, or The Terror, or countless other albums that I love. It’s an artistic statement by a woman who’s supposedly constrained towards writing to the radio but is free enough to do literally whatever the hell she wants, whether it be dress like a bizarre experimental fashion mannequin, explore cutting-edge concepts of gender and sexuality, or record psychedelic freak-art music with the Flaming Lips.
To quote a user on the (since taken down) YouTube stream of the album: “what the fuckin fuck universe am i in where i am actually diggin Miley Cyrus music? what in the fuckin fuck??”