In a twisted way, I almost wanted Bangerz to be brilliant.
Not because I hold any particular fondness for former child-star and pop culture hanger-on Miley Cyrus, but because shit, wouldn’t that have been a surprise? Almost everything about Cyrus since dropping first single “We Can’t Stop”–the laughable twerking, the shitstorm VMA performance, “Wrecking Ball”‘s art-troll video, that tongue—has increasingly painted Bangerz as chaotic but minor album released chiefly as a means to keep her in the spotlight. What better way to be a rebel than to subvert those expectations, and make something massive or at least inspired?
But no, Bangerz goes exactly how everyone imagined: the driving question isn’t “Is it bad?”, but “How bad is it?” And, unsurprisingly, the answer is “pretty bad”. As a rule, the songs on Bangerz can be divided into two categories: the obvious “bangers”, and baffling everything-but-the-kitchen-sink genre blends. There’s no hard ruling on which edges out which as better; the bangers are straightforward but ugly takes on synth-y Southern hip-hop that typically feature Cyrus rapping (“We Can’t Stop”, “SMS”, “Love Money Party”, “My Darlin'”, “Do My Thang”), while the genre mash-ups (“4×4”, “Wrecking Ball”, “#GETITRIGHT”, “Drive”, “FU”, etc) err towards more interesting but frequently mediocre and/or boring takes on filtering country, rock, and dance through pop.
But, of all the outright weird fits and starts of the album, Bangerz‘ most left-field choice is to start with “Adore You”, the album’s least fussy track, and the best of its ballads. Propelled by a skittering drum beat and somber piano chords with by-numbers strings in the chorus, the song suffers slightly from “This Could Be Anyone’s Song” Syndrome, but it has one of Cyrus’ more restrained, nuanced, and earnest performances, and actually succeeds as a sweet love song. On the album’s other end, penultimate track “Maybe You’re Right” is an electro-ballad that could work if it had more forward motion.
“It could work” was one of my recurring thoughts while listening to Bangerz. “#GETITRIGHT”, the guitar-groove produced by Pharrell Williams, has a decent enough instrumental and melody, but enters one ear and politely exits the other four and a half minutes later. Something similar could be said for Williams’ other entry here, “4×4”; the hip-hop/country stomper that registers damn high on “What the hell am I listening to?” Obvious single “Wrecking Ball” is a pleasing listen, but the thudding chorus and Cyrus irritating vocals sell it short. Even mid-tempo filler cuts like “Drive”, “My Darlin'”, and “Someone Else” contain at least one workable hook or flourish that could have led to a better track. For an album that’s surprisingly ambitious in its scope, Bangerz leaves plenty of ideas on the table.
But, then there are the ideas that made it on the final pressing that should have been taken from the studio console and buried in a shallow grave in whichever vacant lot Cyrus buried her Hannah Montana wig. The French Montana-assisted “FU” represents the album at its absolute nadir: a genre trainwreck of dubby EDM and jazz-y cabaret, lyrics a drunken ex-lover would call graceless, and Miley pushing her voice to its obnoxious extremes. Britney Spears drops in for other low-point “SMS (Bangerz)”, the most aggressive club jam on the album that’s also far and away the worst (and, with the Spears cameo, a possible single).
“SMS” is awful, but not for the reasons Cyrus wanted it to be. The on the nose “adult” content is meant to be shocking, but really, it’s almost rote and predictable. It’s a problem that haunts Bangerz as a whole; Cyrus’ “can’t be tamed” lifestyle comes across as sincerely what she wants to do right now, but it also has more than a few winks and nudges–she knows we know it’s calculated. But, this means that the record gets the worst of both worlds because while Cyrus wants to push people’s buttons, she either doesn’t know how or want to fully commit to her trainwreck image. She could sing about doing a line off a dancer backstage, and it’d be more believable and shocking than going through the motions schlock like “Love Money Party”.
If Bangerz was a better album, it might have even been fun, too. As is, there’s plenty of parties, but no one sounds like they’re enjoying it; “We Can’t Stop”, the big party anthem single, sounds more like a dirge than a good time. There are a few decent to good spots on this album, but between the atrocious lyrics, messy production, and Cyrus’ still-grating voice, the album misses far more than it hits. Two stars out of five.
tl;dr: Bangerz might give you a headache, 2/5.