There’s a reason why Miley Cyrus’s new album is so out there. In showbiz (pop music particularly), the more outlandish the personality, the better the music needs to be. Axl Rose wasn’t just tolerated but adored for being the way he was because people loved Guns ‘n’ Roses. Much the same with Eminem. Courtney Love has always been off her rocker, but it’s only now, distanced from the brilliance of Hole, that her instability truly shines. John Lennon was known to say the odd inflammatory thing, while the less said about the two Gallaghers of Oasis the better. Basically, the world will forgive your transgressions, your prickishness as long as the music is good enough. Cyrus’s public persona has been borderline (or worse) obnoxious for a while now, so this has naturally placed a great deal of creative burden on her. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is an attempted gamechanger — pretentious, ambitious, experimental, indulgent — not just because she wanted it to be but also because it had to be so. Because uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
It has 23 songs, stretching just past the 90-minute mark, with compositions that retain the essence of poppy accessibility but still make deep, dark journeys toward space and art rock and psychedelia. A lot of the arrangements and experimental elements seem to be the work of the Flaming Lips, who’ve co-written and co-produced the album. (Incidentally, the Flaming Lips have to be the most unjudgmental band around. Their past co-conspirators include Ke$ha and Chris Martin.)
Ambitious as it may be, Dead Petz is also a pretty big mess. It’s all over the place, with little by way of coherence or musical narrative (despite the Lips’ best efforts, presumably, although coherence has never quite been their forte). It’s just one elaborate ruse after another, with the finer moments of quality or eccentricity — Tangerine or the infectious Dooo It! — easily forgotten amid this insistence to write Serious and Daring Music That Matters. It mostly isn’t and doesn’t. But while the temptation to trash this release is strong, it’s also important to remember this is a full-on mainstream, erstwhile teenybopper artist who’s actually trying something that’s objectively leftfield, which deserves at least a patronising acknowledgement if not more.