Some first impressions of the singer’s new surprise album, which she announced during her closing performance at the 2015 MTV Video Music AwardsMiley Cyrus is used to forcing her way to the center of attention. At the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, she upstaged much-hyped, dueling performances from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry with the twerk heard ’round the world. Two years later, returning to the program as a host, Cyrus may have stolen the show from Kanye West (whose acceptance speech was a masterclass in slightly stoned trolling) or at least Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj (who performed together after a high-profile Twitter spat) by closing out the ceremony and announcing—oh yeah—that she was releasing an album for free online that very evening.
Yet what stands out about that album, titled Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, is how much she’s not at the center of it all—at least at first. Her head is elsewhere: “Yeah, I smoke pot/ Yeah, I love peace,” she cries on the twitchy opening number “Doo it!,” which she debuted at Sunday’s awards show in a sea of drag queen contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race. These 23 tracks are meant for lighting up and pondering the universe, if they’re not about indulging in those activities explicitly. More than half of them top four minutes in length, and several approach five or six. Being in the moment, at least in this dimension, is hardly the goal.

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It isn’t just subject matter that accounts for Cyrus’ low-key presence, however. The songs themselves push her voice deep into the mix behind fuzzy guitars and ethereal keyboards she dreamed up with Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, who lends his psychedelic touch to several songs. (In particular, his fingerprints are all over the “Yoshimi”-esque “Karen Don’t Be Sad.”) The tracks resemble leaked demos more than they do songs from Cyrus’ last album, 2013’s flashy Bangerz. There is a rough, homemade quality to the these sketches, even though master beatsmith and Bangerz architect Mike WiLL Made-It returned to the boards to produce a few songs. With a little self-editing and polish, some of the strongest ideas here could be transformed into more recognizable and digestible pop songs, but doing so …Read More