I honestly never thought I’d ever review – much less listen to – a record by Miley Cyrus of Hannah Montana fame. In fact, the fake hipster and indie elitist inside of me still can’t quite come to terms with this turn of events. At any rate – long story short: TV / pop star erases her goody two shoes image a few years ago by revealing more and more of herself, makes friends with the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, collaborates on a few songs and eventually this leads to the free release of the double album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
Reviews have been understandably all over the map. Pitchfork trashed it, giving it a 3 out of 10. The review focused on Miley’s wealth and age with musical critique seemingly an after thought. NME swings in the opposite direction, awarding the album an 8 out of 10 and basically hails Miley as a musical visionary. All of this makes me feel…awkward. I’ve loved The Flaming Lips for years and haven’t really known what to make of Wayne Coyne’s increasingly “out there” public persona. A public dalliance with Miley Cyrus seemed like a bid to remain in the public eye by any means possible. So…the extreme love and extreme hate for the new record doesn’t really surprise me. What I am finding is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. At 23 songs and 90 minutes, the album (it really should be called a double album) is too long. There is a very good 14 or 15 track album here, with at least 5 songs that are masterpieces. The constant references to drug use and sex does get tiresome, but it is no more offensive than other albums by popular artists. The interludes (except for the Steven Drozd assisted Miley Tibetan Bowlzz) don’t add much and the spoken word bits are grating. At it’s best, it sounds like peak era music from The Flaming Lips with no concessions to the pop universe.
Opening track and lead off single Dooo It! announces Miley’s new mantra “Yeah I smoke pot, yeah I love peace / But I don’t give a fuck, I ain’t no hippy” with a skewed pop electronic backing. It doesn’t really prepare the listener for the brilliance that is Karen Don’t Be Sad. Sounding like an outtake from The Soft Bulletin era of the ‘Lips, it is an emotional tour de force. Subtle orchestration allows the focus to remain on Miley’s vocal delivery – and its a stunner. The highlight of the record for me, it delivers on every level. “So, Karen don’t be sad / You know the truth is true / The world can still be beautiful / That parts up to you”. Space Boots doesn’t feature any input from members of The Flaming Lips and yet it is one of the strongest songs on the record. It’s a left of center pop lament that is truly affecting. Maybe not in sound, but in feel it reminds me of those great girl group songs from the 60’s. Bang Me Box is an explicit and joyous ode to sex that has a killer beat and bass line. The multi-tracked vocals delivered in a sensual purr are ridiculously catchy. A box, if you don’t know, is a term for vagina. Clever. Tiger Dreams was one of the first songs leaked from this project and it remains one of the standouts. The song is purposely undersold for the first few minutes, a muted electronic lament. The orchestration swells and overtakes the mix as the song progresses leading up to the positively orgasmic chorus. If this was put out by The Flaming Lips in 1999 the hipster review sites would have been besides themselves coming up with new ways to praise it. The drums are particularly amazing on this song as well. Evil Is But A Shadow is a haunting song that sounds like a soundtrack to a silent horror film. The lyrics stay true to the music, creating an evocative atmosphere. “Evil is but a shadow / That always accompanies the good / You can try to have a world / A world without the shadow / But it’ll be a dark, dark and cold place world / Cause it would be a world, a world without light too”. Pablow the Blowfish is dedicated to Miley’s pet fish that died and is a sad piano lament. As a pet lover who recently lost a pet fish, I found it truly affecting and I was willing to overlook the fake crying at the end of the song. I can’t think of another song that has anything comparble to a chorus that goes “And Pablow the Blowfish / I miss you so much”.
There is a lot to love here, a few things to be indifferent about, and just a few things to skip. At 23 songs I think that is a fairly reasonable rate of return. The album challenges the notion of what is acceptable listening for folks who define themselves by the hip factor of their music. I admit, even I felt a little strange at first listening to this album. I’ll tell you this though – 14 or 15 of these songs will get repeated spins from me over the years to come.
Verdict: Naked and Honest
For Fans of: The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Portishead, Lana Del Rey