Very rarely do we get an album that will make or break the career of an artist who is already a worldwide superstar. And yet, this is where we find ourselves with Miley Cyrus’ latest album Bangerz. Right in the middle of the musical climax of 2013, one of the best years of music in recent memory, with releases from Drake, Justin Timberlake, Elton John, Cher, Lorde, and Kings of Leon — all in the last two weeks — the reception of Bangerz will plot the course for the future of Miley’s career.
In a complete departure from the type of music that made her a household name, Miley Cyrus makes the commonly onerous task of transitioning from teen idol to pop star seem elementary with Bangerz. With production from Will.i.am, Sean Garrett, Pharrell Williams, and Mike WiLL Made It — who executive produced the album, and deserves consideration for producer of the year — and features from Big Sean, Future, Nelly, and Britney Spears, Bangerz is an unexpectedly thorough album. The title is apt; there are feasibly five more successful singles after “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” on the album, something that we usually only see these days from Rihanna and Katy Perry.
Bangerz opens with “Adore You” a piano-laced ballad that reminds you no matter what you think about Miley Cyrus, she can still sing. The second track, “We Can’t Stop,” is the single that changed the perception of Miley Cyrus and sets the tone for the album. Bangerz is a rebellious, yet calculated event that Miley maintains complete control over. Miley thoroughly outshines Britney Spears on their collaboration, “SMS (Bangerz),” as Britney Spears sing-talks eloquent lines like “You know I’m that meow, quick to scratch your eyes out.”
In fact, Miley routinely eclipses most of her guests on Bangerz with a couple of exceptions including Nelly, who held his own on “4×4,” the sole country-tinged song on the album (once again reinforcing the assertion that the former St. Lunatic is becoming a full-fledged country artist), and Future, whose understated performance on “My Darlin” fits perfectly with Miley’s vocals and the meshes well with the production of his frequent collaborator Mike WiLL Made It.
Bangerz begins to shine after current number one hit “Wrecking Ball” and the lyrically philosophical and somewhat depressive (strangely in good way) club track “Love Money Party” featuring Big Sean. Continuing the dreadful trend of hashtagged song titles and employing the equally horrible practice of using all caps, “#GETITRIGHT” produced by Pharrell Williams is one of the best tracks on Bangerz. The electric guitar and whistle-led (yes) is a guaranteed summer hit, and continues the remarkable hot streak Pharrell has been on since working with Daft Punk earlier this year. “Drive” is another hit-in-waiting, a power ballad skillfully performed by Miley, backed by a pulsating, synth-laden beat produced by Mike WiLL Made It.
Right in the core of Bangerz is “FU,” the biggest mistake on the album. Sounding like leftovers from a Born This Way session, “FU” features a completely unnecessary feature from perpetual-collaborator-with-everyone French Montana. Lyrically the song fits the album format, but sonically, it could have easily been left off Bangerz.
The other competitor for best song on Bangerz ( another all but guaranteed single) is “Do My Thang” produced by WIll.i.am, featuring a perfect EDM chorus that will definitely be remixed and put into rotation by your favorite DJ. “Do My Thang” features Miley rapping once again, but it’s much better fit than her appearance on “23,” Mike WiLL Made It’s single featuring Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. Bangerz, nearly equally split between ballads and party tracks, quite amazingly isn’t filled with the jarring shifts commonly experienced with albums featuring the two song formats. “Maybe You’re Right” and “Someone Else” both ballads, both utilizing different formats (the former piano-backed, the latter synth-driven, and the closer for the standard version of Bangerz), and both potential singles (Miley wasn’t lying with this tweet), flow seamlessly after “Do My Thang.”
The deluxe version of Bangerz features three extra tracks, two of which should have been on the standard version. Thanks to an all-too-common label practice, many will miss two of the better tracks on Bangerz. “Rooting For My Baby” is your average acoustic pop song, which is what usually makes up deluxe album cuts. But “On My Own” and “Hands In The Air” are different. The last two tracks are what push Bangerz into the conversation for pop album of the year. The final Pharrell production on the album, “On My Own” is an incredible dance track that feels like it was created for Justin Timberlake, but Miley quickly makes it her own. “Hands In The Air” features Ludacris delivering one of his better verses in recent memory, over a now familiar but not overdone synth-driven beat produced Mike WiLL Made It. Vocally, it may be Miley’s best performance on the album, and is the perfect closer for Bangerz.
Bangerz is the most surprising album in years. Miley Cyrus, despite the rampant criticism, has shown us why she has the spotlight. Few artists get multiple hits in their careers, let alone pack this many potentially hit singles in one album (not including the two top-ten singles she already has) while keeping it from sounding like a disjointed mess. In one of the best years in recent music history, Miley Cyrus has put together an album with tremendous staying power, and an album that effortlessly validates her transition to a bona fide pop star. The multitude of quality tracks on Bangerz easily overpowers a few missteps to make it one of the best pop albums this year, and a defining moment in Miley’s career.