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Posturing obscures Miley Cyrus’ talent on ‘Bangerz’

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Updated: November 9, 2013 6:09AM



In case you haven’t heard, former Disney Channel star Miley Cyrus is 20 and sick of playing to the kiddies. Translated on her fourth album, “Bangerz,” that means collaborating with the hottest hip-hop producers and pop craftsmen (Mike WiLL, Will.i.am, Nelly) money can buy to launch a persona that articulates rebellion and ripe sexuality. Consider this new set an overdose of those two plot points; her new songs often veer into parody, especially when she mimics the urban fly girl she clearly is not.

What else can explain the ridiculous strip club soundtrack “SMS (Bangerz)” — featuring Britney Spears, or at least a robotized facsimile of her, singing verses to Cyrus speed raps — and “We Can’t Stop,” a sing-song party jingle that sounds structured to suck away large swaths of brain cells upon each listen?

This, of course, is a star known for doubling, “Freaky Friday”-style, contrived characters that are bigger and bolder than us all. Under that lens, the fiction of this new album is pure pop artifice, starting with the vocal enhancement technology of “Adore You,” the opening song that works as a kind of mission statement: “I just started living,” her robotic counterpart sings. Yeah, we get the message.

When this album works, as it often does, it’s through songs that brandish big hooks and Cyrus’ natural vocal power, like the swaggering “Do My Thang” — a kind of a bouncy Disney anthem but set at a back alley knife fight. Cyrus letting her guard down as a vocalist, and relying less on pretense, is a good thing as she sounds less harsh during those moments, and those vulnerabilities are what brings this album to life.

Power ballads like “Wrecking Ball,” “My Darlin’ ” the text-message drama of “FU” and even the road trip supernova “4X4” are messy, indulgent, and soaring, exactly what someone at her age sounds like, while putting her in league with Adele and Amy Winehouse, two obvious touchstones here. The Southern twang in her voice on a song like “Love Money Party” reminds us there is a real singer here; when she drops it, all that’s left is attitude.

Mark Guarino is a Chicago freelance writer.



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