For some people an album that uses hashtags in song titles and includes lyrics like ‘SMH, I’m pressing send on you’ will only ever be a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse. But let’s be honest those are not the people BANGERZ was made for. This album is shamelessly zeitgeisty, absolutely of its moment, a living breathing tumblr meme and will undoubtably become one of those time capsule albums that sums up a specific point in the timeline of pop culture. It’s also a damn good record.
But before I get down to the boring bit where I talk about the actual songs let’s deal with the giant dancing bear costumes in the room:
I’ve always liked my stars to teeter right on the brink of self parody and cartoon. Ginger was my favourite Spice, I like Courtney more than Kurt, Country House is my favourite Blur video, I like Prince Charming more than Dirk Wears White Sox.. I could go on. The point is call it punk, call it privileged brattishness, whatever, I’ll take Miley’s ghetto-dyke posturing and fuck-you dry humping over most of her winsome, disingenuous or just plain dull contemporaries any day because there are no apologies and no get out clauses. If you don’t like it.. well, FU I guess. And more importantly because the bravado and infinitely giffable videos are backed by some really great songs.
I guess a lot of people in this country really had no idea who she was a few months ago (other than a vague memory of Achy Breaky Heart if you are old enough) but I’ve had my pop-culture magpie eye on her for a while now.
For those who don’t know Miley started out as one of those Disney girls like Britney or Christina only she played a character in a TV show called Hanna Montana who was a pop singer, sort of like herself but in a blonde wig. She also played Hanna’s alter ego Miley Stewart who was sort of like her in other ways (a ‘down to earth’ Texan girl with brown hair) who also happened to secretly be a pop star. So basically she was playing a version of herself who was also secretly another version of herself whilst also being a Disney star herself with all the pretending that comes with that. Oh, and she also went on a tour billed as starring ‘Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus’. Confused? You should be. So yeah, at 15 that’s surely going to fuck you up.
Don’t give your daughter to the Mouse Mr Cyrus.
But contrary to the crib notes most of the reviews are written from this is Miley’s fourth solo album and although she says she considers it her debut-proper since it’s her first truly post-Hannah release it’s by no means her first stab at a ‘coming of age’ album. That honour would go to the 2010 release Can’t Be Tamed, a patchy record with too much needless autotune but just enough potential that it peaked my interest. The song that hooked me being Robot - a dystopian journey straight through the dark heart of child stardom.
'You gave me eyes and now I see..'
Although certainly her breakup album I am however convinced that Bangerz isn’t Miley’s breakdown album. It’s the perfect storm of a well orchestrated publicity machine and a young woman having a blast with it and - for once - I think calling the shots. This clip of her arriving at the VMAs and throwing a wobbly because her entrance plan had got messed up (she was meant to arrive in a police car) is pretty fascinating stuff. The moment she get’s out of the car and immediately turns on the Miley #BANGERZ ‘schtick’ is an illuminating glimpse into just how aware of her persona she is.
In a lot of ways it reminds me of the heydays of the Spice Girls blitzkrieg - only with less tits and more tongue.
So to the music..
Miley is an old hand and unlike many of her peers she’s actually pretty talented. In fact one of the most surprising things about Bangerz is how enjoyable her vocal performance is. I’d go so far as to say its a highlight of the record. Her rapping does have such an obvious air of trying on a costume for size that it verges on the ridiculous but self-aware nods to being a ‘southern belle’ and so on pull it back from the brink and in the end I find it endearing.
The mix of styles covered in the album is unusual and it’s fantastically well put together - although I could do without hearing Mike Will’s name every 30 seconds like a fucking audio watermark. There are some surprising and brave decisions (mixing dubstep and hoedown anyone?) but it pays off and forms a remarkably coherent tracklist. It’s also an album that for being unashamedly mainstream absolutely has it’s own character and feels totally wedded to Miley rather than tacked on to whoever happens to be recording it in the studio.
Thematically it’s pretty much half and half break up/fuck you songs and party tracks - occasionally blending together in that ‘fuck you I’m going to party instead’ way and although it’s the shallow bits that grab you by the balls the first time round there’s a larger emotional range lurking behind the crazy. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s The Wall or something but it’s not all twerking and texting either.
Out of the standard edition there is only one song that’s close to a skip track for me and if that was replaced by the first of the bonus tracks it would be a full house. Compared to recent albums by Katy Perry, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj and even Madonna where I only listen to half the tracks at best Bangerz comes out head and shoulders above most of her peer group. In terms of pure, unabashed pop albums only Born This Way has topped it for me in quality and effort in the last few years. In fact removing Gaga from the equation it’s my favourite pop album in a long time.
Track by track
Starting an album promising ‘bangerz’ with a slowie is a brave move but it pays off. Adore You reminds me of that Beautiful South lyric ‘you can tell a classic ballad by how threatening it gets’. There is something about the claustrophobia of the chorus lyrics ‘When you say you love me, know I love you more. When you say you need me, know I need you more.’ that has ‘doomed romance’ written all over it. It’s a sad song that thinks it’s happy.
We Can’t Stop
As mission statements go ‘it’s my mouth and I’ll say what I want to’ is a pretty good summation of the Bangerz brand. An insanely addictive mid-tempo resplendent with in-joke Miley/Molly drug references and terrible grammar. A sure-fire hit basically.
If you find the word BANGERZ as endlessly amusing as i do you’ll love it. Otherwise it might make you angry. Oh, and Britney features on it apparently.
4x4 is a moment of mad genius. Not only does it combine a country hoedown vibe, rap and dubsteb in an alarmingly enjoyable way but it also has the unforgettable lyric ‘driving so fast about to piss on myself’. If there isn’t a tour mashup with Hoedown Throwdown it will be the crime of the century.
This is the only song on the album I could easily live without - although it does tend to get stuck in my head after I do listen to it.
Wrecking Ball is a soaring, angry, knockout ballad in the karaoke / slow dance / cry-along-in-your-bedroom sense. It’s one of those songs that makes me really glad I’m not 15 anymore.
Love Money Party
Money ain’t nothing but money when you get to the money. Love ain’t nothing but love when you learn how to love. Party ain’t nothing but a party when you party everyday.
Another one of the songs with the wonderfully weird country / hip-hop thing going on. This will soon be going in a playlist sandwiched between ‘Money, Success, Fame, Glamour’ from Party Monster and Lady Gaga’s ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’.
A sweet sounding mid-tempo sex jam.
'Drive my heart into the night, you can drop the keys off in the morning.'
Drive has the dark, brooding feel of a Kanye track and is the closest to what could be considered a ‘mature’ sound on the album.
Everything about this song is fucking perfect. Broadway meets hip-hop meets dub step meets Bond theme. With lyrics about texting and LOL-ing and all the bitterness and adolescent hyper-drama of the best mega-ballads. The kind of song that makes you feel like if all else fails for the artist it will have been worth it just for those 2 minutes 28 seconds. If you only listen to one song on the album this should be it.
Do My Thang
'Don't you worry bout 'me. Imma be ok. Imma do my thing.'
There you go everyone, don’t worry - she gonna be ok.
I like this track a lot, it’s another addictive mid-tempo with a really hooky, soaring chorus. Next single maybe?
Maybe You’re Right
The only song on the album that could have come from a previous Miley album and on first listen I wasn’t keen but it’s grown on me, largely because she sells it well.
A slightly grimey, end-of-the-party number with a wonderfully aggressive shouty bit near the end.
And it feels fitting that the last lyrics of the album are ‘I’ve turned into someone else’.
Special mention for ‘Rooting For My Baby’ from the bonus tracks which is actually one of my favourites on the record. It’s a sweetly melodic, melancholy, folksy song that reminds me of tracks like Gone and Don’t Tell Me from Madonna’s Music album.
The (MTV) Crib Notes
Pop at it’s most shamelessly zeitgeist-grabbing coupled with strong vocals and genuinely well crafted tunes. Plus lyrics about pissing yourself in fast cars. What more could you want?
It’s a humbling thought, but as web professionals, nothing we create actually exists when the power goes out. — A List Apart: For People Who Make Websites
More consistent than The Casual Vacancy (although its highs were higher and lows lower) I found this to be an enjoyable, easy going whodunit that for the most part kept me engaged. Whilst the central characters felt quite cliched at the start they were fleshed out well throughout the story and by the end of the book were well poised for a sequel.
If I have any negative comments it’s that there is a strange combination of page-turner and long-windedness present in both this and The Casual Vacancy. Buried inside this book is a really gripping yarn half it’s length although unlike The Casual Vacancy it’s not as obvious to pinpoint where the extraneous information is. I never really felt bored while I was actually reading it, more that it just seemed to take far too long to get to the point. I’m a pretty gullible reader and never guess the endings to these things but in this case I did - I suspect mainly because I had so much prelude during which to wander through all the possibilities in my mind.
So to sum up..
A decent holiday read if not something that will blow your mind. Less divisive than The Casual Vacancy but ultimately less interesting too.
Hopefully there will be a slightly more brutally edited sequel to look forward to at some point soon.
Read it if you like: Colin Dexter, Jodi Picoult, Elizabeth George
Most people seem to have fallen for Kanye after 808 & Heartbreak but I was a bit of latecomer to the church of Yeezus with the title song from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy being what finally piqued my interest. In all honesty I’ve been pretty late coming to rap in general - partly due to a certain amount of squeemishness about lyrical content and partly because I’m just not that ghetto innit? I’ve long been an Eminem fan (the rapper for people who don’t listen to rap) but asides from a brief flirtation with trip-hop and Snoop in the mid 90s I’ve been resolutely intimidated by rap and hip hop most of my life for reasons that I’m not keen to analyse too much, because quite frankly it mostly boils down to classic white, middle-class fear. (Mummy, why is the angry black man shouting at me?) Well, MBDTF managed to shoot through that with a genre-defying bolt of melancholy, humor and gloriously OTT crazy. Not only did I become a Kanye fan but I started out on a brand new love affair with rap.
If MBDTF was the sound of Kanye losing his mind Yeezus is only further down the rabbit hole. Don’t for a minute be expecting that he’s found any kind of equilibrium since the last record. I’m a sucker for artists who expose their own human flaws and generally will give a free pass on things I might not have otherwise if I know they know too. Kanye most certainly knows - Runaway was the touchstone moment for that but Yeezus continues the theme. Like all the great rock stars he is a big mess of contradictions ranging from arrogance to humility, money obsessed to anti-capitalist, misogynist to apologist. None of it makes much sense but like all great polemicists it sounds good at the time. The lyric ‘Soon as they like you make ‘em unlike you’ in I am a God seems to sum this perversity up perfectly. There is also a recurrent theme in both this and the last record of him demonising himself - referring to himself as a monster, a wolf, possessed etc and while it is glamourised there is definitely a strong air of self-loathing about it. Self disgust is self obsession, honey. And yes, he does as he pleases too.
And if anyone is under the allusion that he doesn’t have a sense of humour about it all then the 11-on-the-hamometer pastiche of American Psycho he trailered the album with should prove otherwise:
Musically Kanye West is one of the only artists, never mind mainstream artists, who can genuinely surprise me at the moment and Yeezus is sonically thrilling. Don’t expect some nice Starbucks ‘urban’ background music - strap yourself in for this one, it’s a bumpy ride. Aggressive techno, punky rock sounds, glorious melody and angry, angry rap all mixed up and never, ever doing what you expect. Just when you settle into some soothingly melodic sample it will be ripped out from under you and at other times just when you think you can’t take it anymore the relentless nastiness will be salved by a soaring top line tune. It’s basically the musical equivalent of walking through a minefield in the dark while someone alternately screams at you and feeds you cake. All of this makes it AMAZING.
On the whole Yeezus is not as lyrically sophisticated as MBDTF although it has it’s moments, and there are times when it feels he’s trotting out pat rap-isms. But musically it’s leagues ahead, absolutely blinding.
Track by track
As opening statements go this is firmly in the ‘strap in or fuck off’ bracket. Alternating between hard, dirty electro and eerie melodic samples of children singing. Yeezy’s back and he’s gunning for you.
I cannot stop listening to this song. On first listen I thought of Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll Part II, on second listen Marilyn Manson. It does indeed apparently sample Beautiful People and is a big, stompy, glambanger with some suitable glam-punk lyrics to match. The end section where he is shouting ‘God’ over and over reminds me a bit of Bowie’s Pallas Athena but that’s accidental I’m sure.
This video of him performing it live on SNL illustrates perfectly why he is doing a better job of being Rock & Roll than most of our current rock bands at the moment:
I am a God
If Kanye is a God then he is neither a benevolent nor a happy one. Doom-laden, apocalyptic sounding droning opens the track followed by intermittent screams and a general feeling of impending disaster. The last minute of the track is genuinely quite intense and terrifying. It does however also include a classic moment of Kanye meme-bait when he yells HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANTS - reminiscent of Madge’s soya latte and maybe bested only by ‘the sky filled with herons’ for my favourite Kanye lyric.
If there is any song on the album approaching something like a manifesto or a social commentary that extends outside of his own life then this it. Paralleling materialism with slavery he makes a strong case for rejecting capitalism and fashion, if not one he seems to be capable of following himself.
What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?
All you blacks want all the same things
Used to only be niggas, now everybody playing
Spending everything on Alexander Wang
And as far as shade goes ‘Doing clothes you would have thought I had help - but they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself’ is a pretty smart stab at the insinuation a man like him couldn’t possibly have been involved in fashion beyond ‘cotton-picking’.
Ironically it’s this song and not ‘Blood on the leaves’ that offers the more satisfactory explanation for the troublesome Nina Simone sample as he states:
I know that we the new slaves
I see the blood on the leaves
Drawing an explicit parallel between contemporary black commercial slavery and Strange Fruit’s gruesome lynchings is in this context perhaps hyperbolic but certainly eloquent. New Slaves is easily the lyrical high point of the album and although he seems to have ruffled a few feathers with the section where he states
Fuck you and your Hamptons house
I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse
Came on her Hampton blouse
And in her Hampton mouth
I was instantly reminded when I heard it of Pulp’s equally threatening masterpiece I Spy where Jarvis tells us he’s been ‘sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks’ and sets out his (also borderline misogynistic) plan for class revenge by fucking married posh birds:
Your Ladbroke Grove looks turn me on [..]
And every night I hatch my plan,
it’s not a case of woman v man.
It’s more a case of haves against haven’ts.
And I just happen to have got what you need,
just exactly what you need
Musically it is as relentless as the previous two tracks and in my mind completes a trilogy of sorts ending with the soaring melodic last minute of New Slaves - a welcome respite by the time you get there.
Hold My Liquor
Musically and lyrically we are back on more familiar territory with Hold My Liquor being the song that sounds the most like some previous Kanye tracks. But with a big, nasty air horn sounding after every line - just to keep you awake. Perversely this almost sounds like a love song in places. Or as close as you are going to get on Yeezus.
I’m In It
Pornographic and kind of sexy in a fairly ridiculous way. A lot of people seem to be offended by the ‘put my fist in her like a civil rights sign’ lyric but as effectively explicit visual imagery goes I thought it was a cracker.
Blood On The Leaves
Sampling Strange Fruit was always going to be controversial and it’s certainly garnered it’s column inches. Most reviewers are dissatisfied with the disconnect between the sample and the lyrical content - a sprawling, bitter break up tale involving abortion, mollys and baseball games. Musically it all fits very well and feels to me like a gothic tale of love lost and in a way seems no different to the well tread tradition of equating blood and horror with personal loss. That said this particular sample is of course a little more contentious than something like Kurt Cobain singing ‘I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black’ because it directly connects to heavyweight socio-political issues. Within the context of the album it all hangs together for me with an overarching, if slightly messy, theme of blood, horror, personal confusion and black slaveries - both contemporary and historical. Of course it’s confusing that he chose to pair this sample with these lyrics and not New Slave but maybe that’s the point?
For most people this seems to be the ceterpiece track but although I love it I prefer the triple header of Black Skinhead / I Am A God / New Slave and it’s sprawling majesty doesn’t quite topple My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for me.
An enjoyable but not stand-out out track for me - although the Popcaan hook is pretty infectious.
Send It Up
I adore the queezy electronic background noise that runs through this track. Headache inducing in a great way - it’s like having your brain drilled by a drunk clown. The Beanie Man outro to the track ‘Memories don’t live like people do / They always ‘member you /Whether things are good or bad /It’s just the memories that you have’ seems to sum up Kanye’s ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’ philosophy perfectly.
By the time you get to the sweet, dancehall lilt of Bound 2 you fucking need it. And it’s not just us. Poor old Kanye feels the same.
After all these long-ass verses
I’m tired, you tired, Jesus wept
Trying to convince a prospective lover with the promise that he’s worth it despite everything she might have heard (I know I got a bad reputation / Walking ‘round, always mad reputation / Leave a pretty girl sad reputation / Start a Fight Club, Brad reputation) and sounding like for all the world like he wants to give up the whole exhausting business of being Yeezy and go grow potatos with his woman somewhere but knowing that won’t happen. Bound to falling in love. Tired of loving with nobody to love.
The world seems to be stumped as to whether Kanye is an idiot, a genius or a madman. I say an irresistible combination of all three.
Yeezus is in competition only with The Next Day for my album of the year so far.