Review Summary: Baffling. Messed up. Engaging. Surprisingly great.
Pop stars making an attempt to distance themselves from their musical infancy are not new phenomena. Countless out-and-out bubblegum acts reach the stage in their careers (whether label-pressured or otherwise) to stretch more mature muscles, to show some restraint in the face of previous form, perhaps to gain some more respect from a more discerning crowd.
Miley Cyrus is not quite one of these acts. Her 2013 effort, Bangerz, was a clear effort to break away from her super-clean Disney past, albeit dressed up in squeaky-clean production – and this wasn’t an unsuccessful move. While the record sold massively, and the general consensus was that she had successfully transformed, the songs were still a little bit pop-by-numbers (not that anyone would have expected otherwise at this point).
‘… Dead Petz’ is a different prospect altogether. One could expect that from the heavy involvement of Wayne Coyne, this would be a more dramatic change, perhaps toying with psychedelia and a more indie outlook. This was further confirmed when she split from former producer Dr. Luke, and released this record for free, away from her ties to RCA.
On this record, Cyrus doesn’t much bare her soul as vomit it onto the pavement for the listener’s consumption, see-sawing frantically between rebellious spunk and vulnerability for the 90-minute plus runtime. For a free, unannounced album, this is a massively sprawling piece of work, not just a stop-gap for the average pop listener. And before touching on the actual meat of the record here, Cyrus is to be commended for the accompanying attitude – when Britney, Christina et al made their ‘edgy’ albums, they did so strictly within their label’s framework, and with the sole purpose of shifting units. This is the album that Cyrus wanted and made happen, and here it is, unleashed and unedited.
So what of the music? Well, those who’ve had a peek at the opening track ‘Dooo It!’ via the VMAs or the new video have commented how messy and chaotic it all sounds. The record does not abandon this approach from start to finish, and yet ‘Dooo It!’ is probably the most accessible and obvious single on offer here, so for those that it alienated, there will be very little that appeals on the album as a whole.
Tracks such as this, ‘Bang Me Box’ and ‘I Forgive Yiew’ (yes, it really is spelt like that officially) display Miley at her most abrasive and match her public persona more than any of the rest of the record – and while this attitude can rub people up the wrong way, lacks any real reason or substance, is undoubtedly puerile and not easy to get behind, it does end up becoming pretty endearing in a shamelessly punk kind of way.
However, the real bulk of this record displays a much more fulfilling experiment. This style doubtless inspired by Coyne (‘The Floyd Song’, ‘Evil Is But A Shadow’ and ‘Space Boots’ are all in their composition very much Flaming Lips songs with a different vocalist), but to Cyrus’ credit, she has run with these ideas, applied her own persona to them, and made them undeniably her own. The sparse guitars amongst the mish-mash of muddy kicks and warm leads create an intriguing mix, never quite the electro-lead accessibility of her previous work, but refuse to completely alienate the casual listener – most of this will never make radio, but frankly more’s the pity.
Vocally, we have a mixed bag here – and it almost feels like she’s shot herself in the foot by making some of the stylistic affectations and production choices on show. Miley has undeniably got a very sweet and melodic voice when used to full potential, and when it shines through here, on songs such as ‘Karen, Don’t Be Sad’, ‘1 Sun’ and ‘I Get So Scared’, it creates almost a welcome normality to prop up the strangeness of the rest of the album. A little too often though, the vocals are mixed a little too dry or intentionally atonally – not specifically weakening the tracks, but not doing herself any favours as a solo vocalist. This again though adds to the concept of reinvention, as Cyrus is clearly not satisfy to rely on vocal talent over dull songs (as was all too often the case on Bangerz), but instead fluctuates her delivery to suit the moods. This girl is becoming an artist, rather than a pop star.
A few times on ‘… Dead Petz’, the experiments just get downright weird – ‘Milky Milky Milk’ displays frankly bizarre lyrics over what sounds like Crystal Castles and Gorillaz collaborating on a glitchy instrumental, ‘Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz’ is a very peculiar foray into vocal ambience, and ‘Pablow The Blowfish’ should not work on any level – the lyrics read like an 11 year-old girl’s poem, and sung with a crackling voice over a twinkling piano, it is almost dazzlingly insincere, but the twist ending just reeks of the amount of fun Cyrus is clearly having making this album.
As messy as this is, and as downright immature as it gets, this reviewer wouldn’t want it any other way – an extremely baffling, but enthralling experimental release.