There’s no question that Miley Cyrus’ free surprise album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, is deeply flawed. At 23 tracks and 92 minutes, it’s a slog to get through. Musically, it’s often soporific—courtesy of lugubrious tempos steeped in stoned-motion psych-rock and zoned-out electronic grooves, and arrangements that lack rigor—and juvenile: Obvious moments such as the fractured ’80s robo-funk of “I’m So Drunk” and the self-explanatory “Fuckin Fucked Up” give way to provocative, stream-of-conscious musings about pot and sex. Cyrus’ main musical collaborators on the album, Wayne Coyne and the rest of the Flaming Lips, encourage this abstraction: The band members are no strangers to testing the patience of their fans—as evidenced by their recent polarizing albums—and that tendency toward utter self-indulgence also permeates Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
Yet despite its scattered veneer, the record isn’t entirely tossed-off. (One could say it paradoxically takes a village to sound this unedited.) Long-time Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann has a mixing credit on several songs; not coincidentally, these songs—including the soft-glow psych-pop gem “Karen Don’t Be Sad” and the foggy folk-pop tune “Something About Space Dude”—are cogent standouts. Coyne’s nephew, Dennis Coyne, who fronts the equally out-there StarDeath and White Dwarfs, also lends songwriting and production assistance.
More intriguingly, Cyrus foil Mike Will Made-It adds vibrant production on the raunchy electro R&B jam “Bang Me Box” and the cartoonish funk-hop of “I Forgive Yiew”; he also contributes, alongside Flaming Lips and Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel, to the space-age hip-hop roller coaster “Slab Of Butter (Scorpion).” The Ariel Pink-featuring “Tiger Dreams” devolves into a funereal synthpop dirge, while “Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz,” which was recorded by none other than her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, even sounds plucked from a dramatic movie score thanks to wordless crooning and orchestral swells.
Despite this bevy of collaborators, Cyrus herself provides the grounding moments on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. In accordance with the record’s dilettante feel, she’s a vocal chameleon: The industrial-electro-tinged “1 Sun” is a Lady Gaga-Sky Ferreira hybrid, while the percolating ’80s pop earworm “Lighter” finds Cyrus channeling her inner Cyndi Lauper. She’s also not afraid to get real: The Madchester-meets-Best Coast “BB Talk” features conversational (and very relatable) lyrics about the annoying peccadillos of a crush, and she exhibits genuine, tear-stained sorrow over the loss of her pet on “Pablow The Blowfish.” The equally simple, piano-based elegy “Twinkle Song” is just as wistful and effective, between Cyrus’ mid-song anguished howl and her repeated question, “What does it all mean?”
It’s a good question, since Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz ends up a collection of fleeting engaging moments sandwiched between a slew of half-formed musical ideas. Still, it’s almost unfair to measure the record by the same standards used to judge Cyrus’ previous work, simply because this album has a different vibe and intent. It’s not meant to be used for a prolonged Top 40 radio campaign, as Grammys bait, or to provide fresh fodder for a tour. Instead, the album represents a brain dump of a discrete time in Cyrus’ life, an unfiltered collection of musical explorations and personal reflections. It’s an expression of pure creativity and yet another aspect of her progression into an artist committed to living her life in public, warts and all.
Really, that’s just Miley being Miley circa 2015. Whether the music or art is good is almost secondary to her ability to maintain uncensored self-expression and unfettered emotional bloodletting. In that sense, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is a rousing success, and commendable for its devil-may-care bravery. In the greater scheme of things, however, time will tell if the album is merely an off-roading detour in her increasingly colorful pop career—or a self-destructive gesture that detonates her musical momentum.