Miley Cyrus' new album, Bangerz, has me thinking a lot about Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. Both albums reveal female pop stars stepping into their twenties with strength and aggression, while also attempting to break from teen-pop pasts. Interestingly, both albums succeed when they revel in self-empowerment mixed with vulnerability.
For Morissette, these modes compose the entirety of her record, which spawned huge hits about anger, love, and self-reflection (among them "You Oughta Know," "Head Over Feet," "You Learn," and "Ironic). Even at such a young age, the singer was natural pop-rock vocalist, harboring a knack for delivering her highly personal self-penned lyrics with an accessible sincerity. Arguably, Morissette paved the way for modern female vocalists like Cyrus by showing women artists have the right to express anger, sexuality, and spiritual wonder in a pop medium.
Bangerz works when Cyrus adheres to the empowerment and vulnerability Morissette made so fashionable in the mid 90s, though Miley approaches them from her own interests in the blues and soul. The strong, sincere cuts, including ballad opener "Adore You," hit "Wrecking Ball," slow-groove bonus cut "Rooting for My Baby," and the still compellingly melancholy "We Can't Stop," reveal a gifted vocalist working the skills that were on display with her lovely cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene."
Unfortunately, the album falls down when it steps away from the star's strengths and indulges in some unskilled hip-hop divergences. Simply put: Miley can sing, but she cannot rap in any way that is compelling. As such, much of the Mike Will-helmed material (such as "SMS (BANGERZ)" and "Love Money Party") have interesting stretches, but they feel more like sketches than completely realized songs. The deeper listeners get into the album, the more they have to face half-realized material that clouds Cyrus' stronger inclinations.
In the midst of a grinding publicity machine, Miley Cyrus has yet to completely realize her notable artistic goals. Like Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, Bangerz is the work of an artist who can be compelling, but where Morissette created a cohesive, hook-filled, and unified musical world with her breakout album, Miley is still finding her footing. In many ways, I wish she had released a concise but flawless EP to mark her artisitic rebirth ala Solange's True. As it stands, Bangerz speaks well for Miley Cyrus' future, but I would encourage listeners to download a few Miley tracks, and then dust off their old copies of Jagged Little Pill to give it another spin.