Monday, December 2, 2013

Miley Cyrus - "Bangerz" Album Review



Much has been written about Miley Cyrus in the news this year - and that's an understatement. But somewhere buried underneath all the spectacle, she is an actual recording artist who may have just sneakily released the best album of 2013.

1. Adore You

A slow song with a ton of production going on underneath the drawn-out vocals. An interesting choice to begin the album as it runs counter to the media image of Miley and it plays with a running theme throughout the album which is loving someone in a way that never aligns with the way they love you. A very relaxing song with strings and synth.

2. We Can't Stop

I absolutely hated this song the first time I heard it, and the twentieth, and then eventually it grew on me like a fungus. Miley slurs the words like she's living the song lyrics in real time. This sounds like nothing else on the radio right now, for better or worse. Miley took a clear risk with this one which paid off into being one of the biggest songs of 2013.

3. SMS (Bangerz) featuring Britney Spears

A total mindfuck of a song with nonsensical lyrics and so much production it all clashes sonically into a giant amalgam of music. And that's a compliment. The kind of song that if you broke it down to its barest elements, would be absolutely horrible, but all together, somehow works against all reason. A little bit "Crazy Train", a little bit Nicki Minaj.



4. 4 x 4 featuring Nelly

The sequel to "Hoedown Throwdown" from the Hannah Montana movie, or at least a sly wink towards it. Nelly's inclusion seems to be random at first, but he's been making a bid for the country music scene since 2005 with hit song "Over and Over" with Tim McGraw and most recently with Florida Georgia Line on the massively successful "Cruise (Remix)". A nice marriage of country and hip hop.

5. My Darlin' featuring Future

The best song on the album hands down. Miley laments the failure of a relationship that should have been destined for so much more over a persistent hip hop/pop beat and a Ben E. King sample. The emotion from her is palpable on this one and you can't help but fill in the dots to her broken engagement to Liam Hemsworth. There is a sad, persistent yearning in her voice you can't fake. As the song goes on, she grows more and more pleading yet defiant - her best vocal performance on the album and one of the best songs of 2013. Hands down.



6. Wrecking Ball

Divorcing this song from its controversial video, I don't think this song stands up to the previous album track in power or memorability. However it serves as a continuation of the album's unifying theme: love can be powerful and wonderful but it will ultimately devastate you.

7. Love Money Party featuring Big Sean

Miley puts aside the theme of lost love for this tongue twister half-sung, half-rapped song. I have no idea how she would perform this song live but it fufills its birthright as a party song with a spooky Halloween beat. As usual, Big Sean contributes nothing of value to his token guest performance spot and it's the low point of the song.

8. #GETITRIGHT

Another half-country, half-hip hop song over a whistle beat that flows nicely as a party/hookup song. Not memorable but fun.

9. Drive

Sonically experimental in a way that sounds 1980's new wave and 2010's EDM at the same time. She folds beats over synths over an anger at lost promises in a failed relationship. Her voice wavers between frailty and undisguised anger in a way that evokes the word 'performance' in a song - when many singers just sing the words as they're written on the page. "If our love is at the end, then why do I still want you/But I guess I got no Valentine/Send me roses, I'll just let 'em die/I was crazy thinking you were mine/It was all just a lie". The listener can hear each note of indignation, frustration, despair, and crazy love in her voice. The song's breakdown seconds into an Axl Rose style mashup of her high and low voice singing over each other. One of the best songs on the album.



10. FU featuring French Montana

The song starts out, high on slow melodrama and pleading, and twists unexpectedly to a kiss-off song with a pounding beat. French Montana's verse flows much better than Big Sean's and Miley even briefly duets with him. Miley releases her anger unabated here and throws in a ton of acronyms for good measure.

11. Do My Thang

The most-dated sounding song on the album (thanks to the circa-2005 intro and 1999 style verses). Miley playfully tries on a rapper persona a la Lil Kim and sounds damn good doing it.

12. Maybe You're Right

This song serves as a summation for the theme of the record "Chapter 1 we started happy/The second that you said you loved me/I started questioning us/Are we really in love." On another level, it serves as a response to her critics in the wake of her "VMA Scandal": "You might think I'm crazy/Lost and foolish, leaving you behind/Maybe you're right". Either way, this mid-tempo song answers back with a weary strength and a depth of emotion.

13. Someone Else

Familiar lyrical tread and a companion song to "Maybe You're Right". Another tongue twister over a J Lo style beat. By the end of the album else, Miley acknowledges her transformation into a new person, the "someone else" changed irrevocably by her breakup and recent "scandal". Her vocals descend into rapid craziness as she sings antithetical statements about love being "patient" and also "selfish". And besides that, it's just a really good song.

Miley's created something that many of her pop contemporaries have failed to do in the era of the digital single - to create an honest-to-god record, an album with thematic elements. She's made a record that doesn't sound like anything else on the radio right now that sparkles with her personality throughout. It's hard to imagine anyone else but the Miley Cyrus of this very moment singing these songs and in creating these songs, she's cemented her place in pop music history - she's of this very moment, this era, 2013. Pop culture and her own personal experiences aligned to produce this, she's both speaking from her own viewpoint and the viewpoint of the cultures that she's been exposed to. I wouldn't be able to pick the singles from this one if I was her A&R rep, they're not alongside album cannon fodder, but instead part of a larger musical journey (if you will) into the future.

There is no record I've ever heard that will represent 2013 more than this one.


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