I know some of my readers will scoff at me for even reviewing this one, but the fact of the matter is that it’s one of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year, pop or otherwise, which is what prompted me to listen to the stream, not the starlet’s controversial and certainly disgusting behavior of late.
Historically, I’ve never been a fan of Miley’s work. It usually struck me as music for kids. Which, of course, is exactly what she was doing in the beginning, portraying the children’s television character Hanna Montana. But even after she got away from that and started releasing non-Montana albums, the songs just seemed like flimsy teeny bopper fodder to me. I’ll admit that “Party in the U.S.A.” was catchy, but that had just as much to do with songwriters Jessie J and Claude Kelly, and co-writer/producer Dr. Luke, as it did with Miley herself. To that end, Bangerz was crafted by an awfully long list of writers and producers du jour, which is another reason I decided to give it a listen.
Surprisingly, the album does not open with a banger but a tender ballad called “Adore.” Honestly, as much as I didn’t want to, I loved it from the first time I listened to it. In all seriousness, it’s a gorgeous, shiny gem of a song and one of the best pop/R&B ballads I’ve heard in a long, long time. And this is coming from someone who isn’t crazy about Miley’s current single “Wrecking Ball,” which is also a ballad, and one that most of the world is currently going nuts for. (“Wrecking Ball” just strikes me as being very generic and the dubstep-flavored chorus just doesn’t wub wub me the right way.) “Adore” is a thousand times better, easily. If you don’t believe me, well, consider the simple fact that they opened the album with it. Most artists, and especially pop artists, tend to open their album with the strongest track, or at least one of the strongest tracks. So, there’s no way Miley’s label would have made this the first song on the record if it wasn’t quite good, especially since it’s a ballad and nobody opens an album with a ballad here in the States (they often do in Asian countries). And while the punchy beats and lush orchestration are superb, it’s the way Miley sings the song super passionately, like an entirely lovesick teenager, that makes it such a winner. “When you say you love me / Know I love you more / And when you say you need me / Know I need you more,” begins the oh-so-sweet chorus, which she sings beautifully. If pop or R&B ballads tend to make you swoon, you’ll be listening to this one on repeat in the not so distant future and you won’t even feel guilty about it.
The second track on “Bangerz” is the summer’s big single, “We Can’t Stop,” which took seven writers and three producers to craft. Which really boggles the mind if you stop and think about it. I mean, SEVEN writers? How much did each of them contribute, two lines of the lyrics? How do you even make enough room for the contributions of seven writers in a song that’s just under four minutes long? Well, what usually happens in a case like this is that someone writes a great song but someone at the record label thinks it could be better so they have someone rewrite it, making a new and improved version, but then they’re not satisfied with that so they give it to another writer and so on. And then the producers want writing credits, and to put their own spin on it, so they re-write it a little, too. Who knows how the writing of this one played out, but even with seven writers and three producers they failed to come up with something that grabbed me. For starters, the voice with the pitch turned way down that says “it’s our party, we can do what we want” and so forth just bored the hell out of me. It sounded a little too cocky, too. And the lyrics bored me. It just struck me as being another lame song about partying and, what’s worse, I didn’t even find it to be particularly hooky. Fortunately, many of the songs on Bangerz are more infectious and just plain more interesting.
I have a feeling Miley’s next single will be the title track, “SMS (Bangerz),” which, thankfully, is quite the banger with a boisterous, persistent devil of a beat that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go even as Miley sings and raps — yes, raps — in a fashion that could easily be interpreted as arrogant. For some reason it didn’t bother me, though. It simply struck me as a young pop star having fun and there’s nothing wrong with that in my book. Plus, you have to applaud the song’s creativity. It’s definitely an unusual, weirdo pop song and it’s quite the original at that. Oh, and it has a delicious verse by Britney Spears, who *isn’t* doing the faux British accent for once. Finally, it’s basically about being independent and not needing a man and so, for once, it finds Miley delivering a positive message to young women.
“I’m a female rebel / Can’t you tell,” Miley sing-speaks early on during “4X4,” a jumpy, energetic number that again finds her alternating between singing and rapping. And one thing is for certain — she’s a much better rapper than Justin Bieber (who she’s looking more and more like every day). Plenty of pop stars have done much worse rapping in the past, too. The fact of the matter is that Miley actually *can* rap. Perhaps not well enough to be a rap star, but the way she spits out the occasional verse here and there throughout the album isn’t half bad. She reminds me of some bonafide female rappers like Lady Sovereign and Princess Superstar. This track boasts one of the album’s several guest spots with a slick verse by Nelly, who actually sounds like he’s at the top of his game.
Another track I quite like is the trip-hop-flavored ballad “My Darlin’,” which contains an interpolation of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” I’m sure some will call it a travesty, but I rather like it. I could do without Future’s auto-tuned crap but the dizzying beats are so pleasantly intoxicating that it’s tolerable, allowing one to still enjoy the song as a whole.
Even people who loathe this album will have to admit that it’s rather innovative. Many of its tracks just have to be heard to be believed. Take “FU,” for example. Miley essentially sings it like a ’50’s torch song, playing the role of a scorned lover. But the music, especially during the chorus, is pure dubstep. If nothing else, you have to give her credit for being the first artist to combine these styles. “Do My Thang” is also fairly original, meshing all sorts of different beats. At times they’re syrupy hip-hop, at times they’re pure EDM and at others they’re more like trap-style rap. As for the vocals, the melody is kind of wishy washy but if you simply look at it as an interlude sort of track it’s inoffensive.
Finally, I have to mention one of the deluxe version bonus tracks, the sweet ballad “Rooting For My Baby,” which is an easy breezy soft rock song that sounds like ’70’s AM Gold. You’d swear it’s a lost song by America or Chicago. You could certainly say that it doesn’t fit in on this album, but that’s clearly why it’s being released as a bonus track instead of appearing on the standard version of the album. Besides, many of the tracks on Bangerz don’t seem to fit together in a sensible manner, if you start worrying about how cohesive it is. I think the album will be best appreciated by those who can look at it as one grandiose musical experiment. And, honestly, I think that’s what most of it is. I’m sure they were trying to write hits when they came up with some of these songs, but they simply let loose and let the ideas flow when they made the others and that’s where the album ultimately succeeds. I’m sure some will argue that she tries everything under the sun, and that it’s a great big mess accordingly, but I’m here to deem it a fascinating, addictive listen.