“Yeah, I smoke pot. Yeah, I love peace. But I don’t give a f***, I ain’t no hippie.”
Miley Cyrus snarls out this introduction in the first, A Capella, lyrics to her latest musical experiment, Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz. Completely separate from her record label, Miley collaborated with The Flaming Lips for arguably her most ambitious record to date: a sprawling 23 song, over 90-minute psychedelic pop epic.
And what an epic journey it is. Contemporary artists, especially younger ones, coming to fruition in the era of iTunes, often build albums founded on a handful of strong singles or album tracks, without being one cohesive whole. Dead Petz is anything but, however; like a drug-induced opera (which this very well may have been), this album is one complete, layered work. The whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
From the angst-ridden declaration of the opening song “Dooo It!”, Miley takes us through heartbreaking lows, uneasy hesitation, frustrated emotions, tongue-in-cheek sensuality, tripped-out drug clouds, then finally to soft, subdued piano.
While her previous albums like Can’t Be Tamed and the excellent BANGERZ fit more cleanly within single genres, Dead Petz is uneven, arguably unpolished; yet reflects so many different experiences of Miley’s, that so many of us have surely gone through. This album is extraordinary in how richly it conveys complicated emotions in such an authentic, moving way.
We feel her devastation in “The Floyd Song (Sunrise).” She sings, “Death, take me with you. I don’t want to live without my flower” as a piercing guitar licks down the scale.
We empathize with her ambivalence as she nervously chatters through her “BB Talk” hip-hop confessional, seamlessly blending her youthful indecisiveness with intuitive convictions. (Not to mention how we laugh out loud at the tongue-in-cheek lyrics: “F*** me so you stop baby talking.”)
We stop and reflect in the slow, deliberate rock ballad “I get so scared thinking I’ll never get over you.” Like in BANGERZ (particularly the song “Drive”), Miley demonstrates a genuine desperation and uncertainty regarding her love life. Even in her early 20s, she fears she has loved, lost, and won’t be whole again.
The true knockout of the saga is the closing track, “The Twinkle Song.” Miley drifts through simple chords, recalling “I had a dream David Bowie taught us how to skate board but he was shaped like Gumby.” She bounces through fantasies, some comic and others tragic, landing on one “When you said you loved me. But what does it mean? What does it all mean?”
The portrayal of Miley Cyrus by the media, and admittedly at times by herself, is a kaleidoscope of chaos. She has as many faces as genres she conquers in this ambitious, artistic triumph. Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz begins with an assertion (“Yeah, I smoke pot”) and ends with a question. It subverts what we think we know about Miley, and maybe about ourselves, dismantling preconceived notions and opening up to introspection and wonder.