Miley Cyrus, the unruly and untamable enfant terrible of pop, proved that she has a quite a lot going on in that bunned head of hers. Her new album “Bangerz” features a dizzying kaleidoscope of influences and genres that she gleefully mashes together like a child with a pair of Barbies. On the album cover, she gazes daringly into the camera, sporting a pompadour and red pout, and one can’t help but think of how far she’s come from her not-so-halcyon Disney days. The album art, lovingly lifted from Yee Wong and Joshua Scott’s “Still Life,” also features lurid neon-pink script reflected in a tropical pool, riffing on that seapunk tendency to mash up natural imagery with the artificial. This is an impressive artistic choice from Cyrus, who is clearly calling all the shots instead of a shadowy cabal of corporate executives.
The album’s first track, “Adore You,” is a lush, melodic ballad that is reminiscent of Rihanna’s hazy mirage of a vocal style. “I just started living,” Miley croons over shivery piano. It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than the M-word, but Cyrus goes for it: “We were meant to be/in holy matrimony,” she pleads, and the listener is almost convinced to exchange rings and run off to the Greek islands with her then and there. (Liam Hemsworth, her ex-fiance, clearly doesn’t share this sentiment.)
Next is “We Can’t Stop,” a generational rallying cry, the well-publicized music video featuring a messy, exuberant party replete with copious pink goo and skulls crafted from french fries. One can easily imagine blissfully hammered co-eds yowling the lyrics out of the window of a car at 2 in the morning: “This is our house, this is our rules!”
Following that ironclad hit is “SMS (Bangerz),” a slight misfire despite its inclusion of pop icon Britney Spears. The song features a squelchy beat much like that of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” and the kind of schoolyard-taunt rap made popular by Kreayshawn and her disciples. Miley, voice dripping with attitude, prattles on about how she keeps a man (the nonsensical answer? “I keep a battery pack”) and not before long, Britney pops in, purring threats to scratch people’s eyes out. Not even the Holy Spearit herself can save this song.
After this mystifying detour, we enter a thumping, bizarro hoedown, complete with a strange accordion, in “4x4.” Cyrus crows that she’s “a female rebel, can’t you tell?” and we don’t question it, in light of her recent antics. The song’s a bit too twangy to be bangy and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album’s slick electronica.
After “My Darlin” comes “Wrecking Ball,” an unquestionable, devastating standout. By now, you’ve probably seen the Terry Richardson-directed clip wherein Miley, between swinging naked on the titular pendulum, stares soulfully into the camera, a single tear rolling down her cheek. This rawness also comes through sonically. The song tells the story of a bruised lover who refuses to let go, regardless of whether her man is good for her or not. With its soaring chorus, it does what all good love songs should do: make your heart beat a little faster. (Fun fact: this song is the first track on my lovesick, sitting-at-home-and-drowning-my-sorrows-in-a-Costco-bag-of-Reese’s playlist.)
“Love Money Party” features lyrics that seem especially inane when compared to the exquisite simplicity of “Wrecking Ball” and a creepy, wiggly haunted-house beat. The song mirrors the ennui of just going to party after exhausting party. Big Sean eventually wanders in with some verses, hilarious in their incoherency, and it makes you wish that he would someday meander into a Columbia party with a lampshade on his head, rambling about supermodels.
“#GETITRIGHT,” easily Miley’s best song on the album, is just flirty, bouncy fun. It is packed with funky guitar and infectious whistling. The song sounds like one long come-on to a lover, with Miley murmuring teasingly. The lyrics get weird—at one point, Cyrus tells her lover, “You make flowers grow under my bed”—but it’s delivered in an innocent, nursery-rhyme cadence that makes it work. The album veers off to the left a little with “FU,” a testament to Cyrus’ willingness to experiment with different styles. In “FU,” Miley is a vengeful, bluesy dame who seems itching to slash some tires. The song is a demented, oom-pah-pah waltz that descends into—believe it or not—some dirty dubstep. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and an enraged Miley lets loose with a howl worthy of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
It is interesting to see how far she can push her voice into the divinely hoarse, smoky territory it could reach. It’s absolutely worth it to listen to the deluxe album if only for the bonus track “On My Own”—not to be confused with the “Les Miserables” number of the same name, which Cyrus actually covered in a blisteringly emotional rendition. (You wonder how Cyrus would play the wounded Eponine in an all-pop-star cast version of “Les Mis”... Big Sean could even be a delightfully disoriented Jean Valjean.) “Bangerz’s” “On My Own” is catchy as hell, its guitar riffs reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand’s “Evil Eye” with a dash of Queen and a liberal coating of sequins. Cyrus seems to have had a ton of fun crafting this album, and even if not all of the songs stick the landing, you’ll have a good time listening to it.