Miley Cyrus has a brand problem ahead of her. This is nothing new to female solo artists who have had a run in their youth only to be painted into a corner in their later years, and no doubt, she and her label are looking at longevity even as the "nowness" of some songs from "Bangerz" fade within a near-instant.
"Bangerz" is all over the map. It's expensively made and tailored song-for-song to showcase Cyrus' affinities and still-growing sense of style and delivery. There's raw material there in the 20-year-old, and any inch of good tape is blown to such max proportions, it's hard to hear what a Miley Cyrus even is. The former "Hannah Montana" has caught flack lately for her boisterous fashions and photos, sexual explicit performances and the pre-occupation (and co-option) of black culture to lend legitimacy to her "grown-up" recording phase. But make no mistake: controversy often parades as substance, with which fun-loving "Bangerz" struggles. There are too many imitations and unearned affectations to know what kind of performed Cyrus is at her core.
Still, when it's on, it's so on, like with her single "We Can't Stop." "Bangerz" also has its fair share of starters.
Below are thoughts on the album, track by track:
1. “Adore You” – It’s always a risk to start an album with a "baby baby baby" ballad, but here, the the point seems to attract the crowd who prefers their Rihanna simmering rather than boiling.
2. "We Can't Stop" -- Still one of the more tasty, hearty dark pop jams of 2013, "Stop" should have kicked this thing off. The unfussy tempo mixed with an insistent melody and casual drug use makes this a winner. Also features one of the four hundred million Mike WiLL Made It shout-outs on this album.
3. "SMS (Bangerz)" -- You know you're in trouble when the thing that makes the most sense on your track is a codeine-controlled Britney Spears verse bubbling nonsense over more nonsense. This hot pop mess irrationally rips off Ke$ha's "Animal" a couple years too late.
4. "4x4" -- Did you know: Miley Cyrus is the daughter of singer Billy Ray Cyrus, and that she is also a very unruly? According to this experiment, she's a "female rebel," though fails to differentiate a female rebel from any other kind of rebel. She's too busy explaining her behaviors by banging on the dash as she drives "round and round" a spiral of accordion and shame. This genre hybrid represents "country" and "the South" in much the same way drag queens represent women. They're a different thing altogether.
5. "My Darlin'" -- The final song in this nasty block of blunders. Classic "Stand By Me" becomes reinterpreted into Cyrus and Future's auto-tuned grievances, a filler tune at best.
6. "Wrecking Ball" -- Without the mostly-nude music video, the ballad stands up as striking -- if somewhat generic - single for Cyrus, whose growl handles the tearful melodrama well.
7. "Love Money Party" -- While the best parts of this song are copy and pasted with little wiggle room for a varied performance, Cyrus seems to thrive in the rap-singing and the hot dance pace. The former child-star makes a comment here about the interchangeability of making money, partying and loving, something she may know a lot about. Her public persona and that slight drawl over an ominous beat is truly something to be beheld. Big Sean shows up for his bars, and while he could have just sneezed into a mic and collected a paycheck, he puts out primo effort. I want more songs like this.
8. "#GetItRight" -- The world will be better off when songs with hashtags in their title become a thing of the past, but I hope this tune gets trotted out as a single around April next year, becoming a contender for Song of the Summer 2014. Simple and catchy, Cyrus sounds like she's having fun for once.
9. "Drive" -- Another Mike WiLL joint, a laser-pointed EDM sound meets "Bleeding Love" with a middling vocal performance. No valentines awarded.
10. "FU" -- Christina Aguilera or Amy Winehouse would have doubtless blown this torchy, fabulous burlesque outta the bedroom. Here, I'm just pleased Cyrus doesn't blow it, period. "FU" showcases a carefully comped vocal line with French Montana, who might as well be just some guy from somewhere. It brims with attitude, but surgically tight to a fault.
11. "Do My Thang" -- Cyrus sings the big hook and lopes through raps in this trap-dripping hip-hop song. Any producer can plop lyrics to a click track, but Cyrus' fails hard as a rapper because of the patent falseness of her flow and thang-doing. This is like rote academia, with its senseless Mad Libs of "bitch" and "f*ck" and eye-rolling, fantastically fake-ass swagger. This is probably where she fought to keep a song on the 13-track set, and where she should have lost.
12. "Maybe You're Right" -- Proportionally, this would have fit right next to "FU," and thematically, it's like the regret that follows a bad blow-up like "FU." Her range struggles with the improved climaxes, though it's refreshingly emotive.
13. "Someone Else" -- This ooncha-ooncha closer might as well be about Cyrus' relationship to her fans and the press that's followed her in recent days. There's hints of instability and neediness in her high-pitched pleas and she reports "I've turned into someone else." We noticed. "Hold me close... tell me now is not the end." It's big and convincing, so maybe we'll stay after all?