Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (RCA) * * *
So what do you do when you’ve twerked a married man on television while singing a song extolling the party-hearty appeal of doing lines in the bathroom and upstaging Robin Thicke, the man behind the year’s biggest — and naughtiest — hit, Blurred Lines? You follow with a naked ride on a wrecking ball and engage in a public spat with Sinead O’Connor after the older star basically branded the former Disney actress a “prostitute” under the guise of a motherly warning.
On Bangerz, her fourth studio album but first as an adult, Cyrus acts like she’s discovered sex and wants to get as much as she can before someone else finds out about this new treat called an orgasm she’s found.
On the hashtag-ready #GETITRIGHT, she taps the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams — who has ruled pop culture this year thanks to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and Thicke’s Blurred Lines — to help craft an ode to a booty call. “I feel like I got no panties on/I wish that I could feel ya/Now hurry, hang up that damn phone!” she commands.
Maybe he’s too busy playing with his apps, because on SMS (Bangerz), a duet with Britney Spears, she simply takes satisfaction into her own hands. “They ask me how I keep a man/I keep a battery pack,” she reveals.
Bangerz’s obsessions aren’t all about the horizontal bop, however, and the hip-hop inspired set, while wholly contemporary, sonically adventurous and dark in spots, isn’t particularly fun or transporting the way great pop music can be. Thicke’s surprisingly solid Blurred Lines album has it all over Bangerz in that regard. The catchy 4x4 country-rap hoedown, with its canned accordion and Nelly guest vocal, and the electronic dance-cabaret-jazz mash-up FU, a collaboration with French Montana, are among Bangerz’ best bets in a giddy sense. Conversely, the atonal, lightheaded My Darling, which features Auto-Tuned rapper Future woozily moaning repetitive verses cribbed from Stand by Me, is awful.
What elevates Bangerz to the top of the pile among the season’s major releases is Cyrus’ growth as a vocalist — it recalls Madonna’s transition from helium-voiced kewpie doll of the Lucky Star era to expressive, emotive singer on Like a Prayer forward. Wrecking Ball, the recent No. 1 hit for which Cyrus endured misguided criticism for a video in which she appears nude atop the pendulum of its title, is fantastic — the best single of the fall and vastly superior to the latest offerings from peers Katy Perry ( Roar) and Lady Gaga’s atrocious Applause.
Cyrus’ clear singing on the rock ballad Wrecking Ball, almost unsettling in the throb of emotion, is a revelation as it captures the rawness of a recent breakup and the swirl of anger and disappointment that accompanies a split. The opening mid-tempo ballad, Adore, and the deluxe version bonus track, Rooting for My Baby, also make fine use of Cyrus’ throaty, Southern voice, as does the Kanye West-styled dub-step Drive — which laments the loss of a lover and feels honest. (Cyrus ended an engagement with actor Liam Hemsworth around the time of her infamous MTV VMAs performance.)