You should never judge a book by its cover, much less an album, but I admit when I hit “play” on the first track of Bangerz, our favorite twerker’s first album since her re-claim to fame this summer, I definitely expected to be assaulted by loud, crass, overly provocative dance music characteristic of her new “bad girl” persona. It was the first of many surprises on this record: Bangerz, contrary to any indecent images that may come to mind with such a title, opens with surprisingly slow and sultry love ballad. Similar in style to some of Rihanna’s slower tunes, “Adore You” is a wake-up call to everyone popping in this record with a chip still on their shoulder from the 2013 MTV VMA. Miley Cyrus may be pursuing a new, bold, rebellious new identity that may or may not be socially acceptable, but when it comes to the music, her soaring, powerful singing voice speaks for itself.
It was after listening to this first track that I decided a fair, unbiased review of Miley’s latest record was not only proper but necessary in a situation where half of America’s internet population derives joy from degrading a musical artist whose music they’ve likely never really given a chance.
Here’s the breakdown: Bangerz, which dropped in early October and cruised as Billboard’s No. 1 album for two weeks until it was topped by Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt, is a fusion of hip hop and dirty pop with a bit of Miley’s token Southern twang. A number of guest appearances by popular artists like Nelly, Ludacris, Britney Spears and Big Sean highlight the genre transition from Miley’s past works to this one, but more sentimental songs like “Adore You” and “Wrecking Ball” show the collection is far from being a radio-desperate party soundtrack.
After the revelation that came with the first track, the one that followed, the infamous “We Can’t Stop”—which has scored quite a considerable amount of airtime since it dropped in June with its controversial music video—came on in a totally different light. The images of Miley twerking in a skin-colored plastic bikini faded away, and suddenly I became very aware of the charming croon that this country-gone-rogue girl has developed since her squeakier days as Hannah Montana. Once you accept the devil-may-care wild-child content of the single, the creativity and vocal prowess begin to shine through.
This became a common occurrence, I noticed, as I sifted through the record—even the worst, most forgettable tracks (“Drive,” for instance, with its uncreative synths and exhaustingly sluggish melody) are salvaged by Miley’s explosive vocal performances.
That’s not to say there’s no dirty dance tracks on the album, the trashiest being “SMS (Bangerz),” which is just a mess of Miley one-liners (“I be struttin’ my stuff!”) and sexual noises from Britney. Some of the other dancier tunes get pretty creative, though: “4×4” drips of country influence with classy Mexican guitar riffs and the kinds of instruments you’d hear at a square dance, and “Love Money Party” features snakey techno beats, a little robotic pseudo-rap by Miley and a highly catchy sing-a-long chorus.
Thematically, aside from the ideas of rebelliousness and partying, Bangerz also deals with a considerable number of heartache songs in which Miley succeeds at expressing her pain over Liam, particularly move-on anthem, “Maybe You’re Right,” which features a simple piano backbone and great choir harmonies. In contrast, the instrumentally creative “FU” achieves the same purpose while channeling a soulful sassiness over what sounds like a classic cheap vintage bar show – a melodramatic pianist hammering down on old keys, the distant screech of wind instruments and deep, passionate vocals.
All in all, the sincerity is certainly there. But the lyrics? Not so much. “I got two letters for you; one of them’s F and the other’s U”? “We’re gonna make a movie, a movie, and it’s gon’ be in 3D, in 3D”? Oooof. You can do a little better than that, Miley.
The standard version of the album closes without much pizazz, other than the rather hilariously accurate chorus of the last track in which Miley proclaims, “I turned into someone else.” In the deluxe edition, you get an additional three tracks, including “Rooting for My Baby,” a relaxed hum of a song over a simply plucked acoustic guitar.
Despite a couple painfully unoriginal melodies and generally unimpressive lyrics, Bangerz delivers a relatively decent pop sound that boasts a maturity and edginess that completely blows her previous work out of the water without—contrary to the majority of the population’s expectations—going too overboard. In fact, there’s nothing at all overly outrageous about it other than some slightly more mature content than her previous album and a bit of dirty language sprinkled throughout. And if that offends you, then I suggest never turning on a radio ever again.
While still in need of some polishing, Miley is forging her own personal brand of Southern hip-hop, and if you can come at it with an open mind untainted by the singer’s most recent public appearances, Bangerz honestly ain’t half bad.