Musical omnivores have given us so much since 2004. Sure, Kanye West is the first name that comes to mind. But there’s also Flying Lotus, A$AP Yams, TEKLIFE, and a host of others at play here. Even Miley Cyrus warrants a spot in this discussion. Her 2013 album, Bangerz, channeled her post-adolescent fascinations into a transcendent pop album. Cyrus and of-the-moment producer Mike Will Made It commandeered the affair. They enlisted newly celebrated bubblegum O.G. Britney Spears and interpolated “Stand By Me” with Future (good), while tacking Big Sean in the deep cuts fresh off “Hall of Fame” (very bad). The highlights were bright, even annoying singles that Miley took on herself like “We Can’t Stop”, “Wreckling Ball,” and especially “Drive”. Like R. Kelly’s Chocolate Factory, Bangerz delivered the goods enough to prompt consideration on whether it made their hijinks (Kelly’s making Miley Cyrus seem innocuous by comparison) tolerable on such a public sphere.
As time went on, there was a sense that Mike Will and, to a lesser extent, Pharrell and Big Sean were recurring cohorts. Then Wayne Coyne happened. Wayne Coyne’s a different story (our own Mark Milner covered that last year, although I respectfully disagree with his take on The Flaming Lips’ post-Yoshimi discography). As time has gone on, it’s become more clear that Coyne himself has hardly been integral in what has made The Flaming Lips so great over the last three decades. So we get an artistic relationship between two (possibly well-meaning) people in which one is a hyper-talented pop star going through a college phase (Read: overtly sexual and experimenting drugs) a la A$AP Rocky and a hollow shell that doubles as the mouthpiece of a legacy band. So for every possibly rewarding crossover there could be on Miley’s fifth album, Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, there’s a shaggy dog story about how the spirit of her deceased pet transferred into Coyne and “Space Boots”: a dejected love song over what could be a passable Flaming Lips deep cut marred by a sophomoric space metaphor.
Through a sloppy hour and a half , Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz turns out a coming of age record that hides in plain sight. The album creeps from lamenting dead pets, to coming to terms, to coming, to fumbling through increasingly more serious relationships. While it’s such a big part of the album, Miley’s A&R prowess takes a backseat. On such a cavernous offering, there’s only room for (mostly) Miley, The Flaming Lips, Oren Yoel, Mike Will Made It, Big Sean, and Ariel Pink. It’s kin to Frankie Cosmos’ (another daughter of a celebrity) Zentropy, giving a brash yin to its coy yang. On paper, it’s not damning outside of the length. It’s even encouraging, considering how talented Cyrus is; enough to step beyond Coyne’s idea-man approach, but what happens is that these kindred spirits try to exercise the damn thing themselves. While this promise comes and goes, Miley fails to write to the complex, yet accessible human emotions she’s conveying, opting to ramble. It’s one long bad drunk dial.
What’s more is that The Flaming Lips weigh so heavily here that it suffocats everyone else besides them and Miley throughout the proceedings. Mike Will’s attempts to lighten the austere mood of Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz never works because Miley’s attempts to play along are as forced as her VMA publicity stunts (Which are a big part of a large platform that aids tremendous causes. I’ll never discredit her good intentions and work in that arena). The art pop maelstrom sucks in an unsuspecting Big Sean and he ends up with his worst recorded material since Hall of Fame. Ariel Pink is forgettable in a backdrop that’s in his wheelhouse. Nobody adds anything productive because this album’s blinding, uncompromising aesthetic only lets Miley be herself. This isn’t bad in theory, but she simultaneously does too much and not enough.
Why Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz is a grand failure is because what’s both polarizing and limiting about Miley Cyrus and her aesthetic is turned to eleven, but scales back nuances that made her last release so wonderful. So much so that there’s no room for this Miley aesthetic at all on an excruciatingly long album. There are multiple heads up asses here, but at least the music is brutally up front about it how much her and her dead pets are invested in their own hogwash. That’s more than I can say about whatever Kid Cudi’s doing these days.