So what we’ve got here is Miley Cyrus singing a morbid piano ballad called “Pablow the Blowfish.” She’s wearing fluffy unicorn pajamas and playing an electric piano in an ersatz cornfield; additional props include a stuffed unicorn on a stool and an inflatable Super Mario Bros. power-up mushroom. Verily, the song is addressed to her beloved deceased blowfish of the same name (prayers up); three minutes in she starts crying, and needs a hug afterward. You might, too. There is nothing remotely ironic about any of this. It’s confounding. I’m confounded. Let me know what you make of it.
This tune comes way more than an hour into her endless, punishing, overcompensatingly druggy, and mildly admirable surprise new album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, a collaboration with the Flaming Lips that’s streaming for free right here, as she announced Sunday night at the conclusion of her disastrous stint hosting this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. (This wacky viral marketing stunt was nearly derailed an hour before launch when Nicki Minaj basically threatened to rip Miley’s head off and feed it to her live onstage.) To suggest that “Pablow the Blowfish” is the point at which this album loses perspective is to suggest that a way-beyond-full-length collaboration between Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips is capable of having perspective in the first place. But it’s not a bad song, and it’s not unaffecting, and if nothing much else it’s ample evidence of her outlandish charisma, and we’ve all been there in re: mourning a beloved blowfish, and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, man. Someone Photoshop a joint into ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s mouth.
She stunk at the VMAs, btw. Deeply unfunny, desperately edgy, ceaselessly profane, increasingly naked. She’s suffering from Lady Gaga’s Law of Diminishing Envelope-Pushing Returns, a plague that eventually afflicts even the best of us, and in fact recently drove Gaga herself to ditch the meat suit and leap directly into Tony Bennett’s arms and go all normcore. Miley will likewise be exploring the back-to-basics route within three years, and it will be awesome; until then, even her biggest fans are gonna be wincing through some stuff. Sunday night, the Nicki Minaj thing was brutal, and everything else was worse. Even Miley’s climactic surprise performance of Dead Petz opening track “Dooo It!”—featuring the lyrics Yeah I smoke pot / Yeah I love peace / But I don’t give a fuck / I ain’t no hippie, and visually augmented by strutting contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race whilst Flaming Lips boss Wayne Coyne repeatedly fired a confetti cannon from between Miley’s legs—inspired little confidence and much confusion. This is like if Iman Shumpert had dropped a new three-fire-extinguisher-emoji mixtape right after the Cavs lost the NBA Finals.
Which doesn’t make Dead Petz bad, or at least it’s not a bad idea in theory. In practice, though, it’s more exhausting than it is anything else: There are 23 songs on this thing, one for every year Miley has been alive, plus one more. (Let’s say the extra one is “Fuckin Fucked Up.”) For the first half-hour or so, it’s functionally a straightforward Flaming Lips record with Cyrus on lead vocals, which has enormous disruptive appeal, actually. The Lips, too, are lower-profile victims of Lady Gaga’s Law of Diminishing Envelope-Pushing Returns (or LGLODE-PR), having spent much of the last half-decade arguing with ex-drummers over the sensitive issue of Native American headdresses and antagonizing Erykah Badu and other ill-advised non-artistic pursuits. Best-case scenario, these guys can slap each other awake, right?
Right. Track two, the mournful cracked lullaby “Karen Don’t Be Sad,” is very nearly as good as this sort of thing gets: It at least catches a whiff of the Lips’ Soft Bulletin-era grandeur, the last time the SONGS! mattered more to them than the ANTICS! This is followed by a lil ditty about a sunrise, and then two separate tracks with “Space” in the title. Even “Dooo It!” is tolerable in context: The second verse (“I understand / Why there is a sun / How the bugs fly / And why there is a moon / Way up in the sky”) harkens back to Insane Clown Posse’s immortal “Fuckin’ magnets / How do they work?” They made it a hot line; she made it a hot song.
But then this happens.
Oh, God. This is rough sledding. I had to shut the door to my office, for one thing. (Too many impressionable young children around here.) The conceit to “BB Talk” is astounding: She’s scolding an overzealous lover for overdoing it with the PDA and goo-goo-ga-ga stuff. (“Fuck me so you stop baby-talking,” is the climactic refrain. Confused? Genius has got you covered.) Which, holy shit. Being admonished by Miley Cyrus for being too twee and exhibitionist is like Big Sean dumping you because your jokes are corny. “Fweaky” is narcotized and nauseating and notable mostly for the fact that Mike Will Made It, the radio-killa pop-rap supernova who executive-produced Miley’s relatively conventional 2013 smash Bangerz, shows up and thereafter periodically attempts to imbue this beast with some semblance of commercial appeal, and mostly fails, which is for the best. Ms. Cyrus herself described “Bang Me Box” to the New York Times as “pretty self-explanatory,” and let’s just leave it at that, Christ.
Alright, look. Here’s the best song we got.
Pretty great! She gets to say “I’m ’bout to get fucked up” a bunch, the beat’s punch-drunk but stumbling forward at least, the Lips slather it in woozy psychedelia without vomiting glitter all over everyone, there’s an honest-to-god chorus/hook/that-was-a-good-drum-break thing happening, and “Self-control is not something I’m working on” is a splendid thesis. Great song! Let’s go home!
[Clicks back to SoundCloud tab.]
Shit! Eleven tracks to go! “I Forgive Yiew” recycles the “Slab of Butter” beat for a cloying sing-song diss track smaller than the pieces of shit Nicki Minaj eats for breakfast. Big Sean himself falls asleep halfway through “Tangerine.” Walking lo-fi Subreddit Ariel Pink mercifully falls asleep before “Tiger Dreams” even begins. The vaguely dance-floor-oriented “I Get So Scared” and “Lighter” are like Carly Rae Jepsen if you replaced the chaste exuberance with barbiturates. (Both those songs ain’t bad, actually.) And “1 Sun” will not convince your parents that global warming is real, sorry. And then, well, geez, look who it is.
Try it without the unicorn pajamas. I don’t know. Listen: You want to live in a world where this record exists. Miley Cyrus is 22 years old and mega-rich and spectacularly out of her gourd and hellbent on doing every last ill-advised thing that pops into her cannabis-addled head. Most of her ideas are terrible—most of your ideas at 22 were terrible—but she’s got a huge, tolerant fan base and, even more importantly, a huge and hilariously intolerant coven of haters begging for the revulsion only she can provide. But after suffering through Sunday’s VMAs, which posited pop stardom as a dim-witted checkers-as-chess match of shifting alliances and awkward #squads and contrived disses and even more contrived reconciliations, it’s clear we need someone who can (ha, well, mostly) rise above it, or sink beneath it, or trip balls until she traipses around it. She is a force for Chaotic Good, even as the chaos consumes her.
Seriously. In the past three years she’s pulled off one of the single greatest troll moves in pop-music history; dropped one of the better pop songs of the past half-decade (the song, not the video, perv); and stolen the Saturday Night Live 40th-anniversary bacchanal out from under every single famous person on earth by legitimately murking “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” She’s got exit strategies. Dead Petz is the sort of overblown, overbearing fiasco that eventually necessitates an exit strategy: It’s a smothering cocktail of PCP and TMI that I greatly look forward to never listening to in full in one sitting ever again. It’s brave, and it’s insane, and it’s without peer or precedent or much of a point, really. All the same, though: You want her twerking on that wall. You need her twerking on that wall.
Rob Harvilla is Deadspin’s culture editor. Yes, there is one. He’s on Twitter.
Lead photo by AP.