Miley Cyrus, "Bangerz" (RCA)
For all the antics that Miley Cyrus has demonstrated in the last few months — the wardrobe selections (or lack thereof), the outrageous quotes, the awkward twerking and the rest of her wild child behavior — she could easily grab attention if she did one thing: let her music speak for itself.
Cyrus' "Bangerz," her fourth album, is a collection that marks the 20-year-old's musical breakthrough. The former "Hannah Montana" star kicks off the 13-track set with "Adore You," a downbeat song about love. Other tracks that follow with that energy — "Wrecking Ball," ''My Darlin'" and "Somewhere Else" — capture a more mature, nuanced side of Cyrus that we haven't seen much of — and that's a welcome change. When she explores the different emotions of her character and doesn't play the caricature that she's become, you're able to appreciate Cyrus as an artist.
If using the phrase "artist" and Cyrus is shocking, it follows the theme of "Bangerz" — which surprises you, in a good way. When Cyrus teased the album with the radio-friendly party anthem "We Can't Stop" — a song originally created for Rihanna — and said producers would include Pharrell, Dr. Luke and will.i.am, the album seemed like it was going to be a hit machine in the vein of Rihanna or Katy Perry. But Cyrus' jams don't sound like insta-hits; some tracks even feel experimental as she blends elements of alternative, upbeat pop, soft rock with hints of R&B and hip-hop.
The Britney Spears-assisted "SMS (Bangerz)" and the Pharrell-produced "#GETITRIGHT" are addictive, feel-good, up-tempo pop tunes; "FU" — guess what it stands for — has Cyrus semi-angry over a dramatic beat, and it makes for an overall punchy and amazing track; and "4x4," featuring Nelly, is a pop-twang adventure. Even "Do My Thang" — where Cyrus isn't too convincing as a rapper — sounds good thanks to the groovy hook that she sings, and will.i.am's Southern hip-hop-flavored beat.
Cyrus' outlandish behavior is helping her get attention. She's become a social media queen, the talk of every news program and music's "it" girl, even stealing thunder from new releases by Perry and Lady Gaga. It's good for the Pop Star Cyrus, but for Artist Cyrus? Not so much. Aside from everything that made headlines following her MTV Video Music Awards performance, vocally she was horrific (she should also learn some better dance moves).
When less is happening onstage, Cyrus sounds better — check out her strong singing in a gritty rendition of "Wrecking Ball" on this past weekend's "Saturday Night Live." If Cyrus would concentrate more on showcasing her music than trying to become the latest shock queen, perhaps we wouldn't be shocked that "Bangerz" is a good album.
She should focus less on the antics and let her music do the talking — and keep that Sinead O'Connor letter in her back pocket (whenever her outfit allows it).
Follow Mesfin Fekadu at http://twitter.com/MusicMesfin