Sometimes we conservatives inadvertently generate free publicity for what we oppose by criticizing as morally abhorrent something that's really an aesthetic failure needing to be put out of its misery on artistic grounds (Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, most TV shows not on Fox News and a few that are).
And Miley Cyrus, the 17-year-old Disney Channel TV star whose tactics in promoting her new album Can't Be Tamed (Hollywood) have made headlines on slower news days, is no exception.
Not that Cyrus' behavior isn't troubling. The creeping (and creepy) choreographed lewdness of parts of her recent performances and her adoption of bordello-worthy performance apparel-coming as they do after her 2008 Vanity Fair photos and together with which they are almost certainly to blame for putting her on Perez Hilton's radar in the first place-should raise the eyebrows and hackles of anyone alert to symptoms of social decay.
But pop artists and their artifacts can be decadent and boring at the same time. And when they are, the boring part is the bigger problem. It indicates that decadence has become so commonplace we take it for granted. It also means that the artist's artifacts aren't very good.
Aside from its cover, a Twilight-generation-friendly image of Cyrus as a leather-clad fashion goth, Can't Be Tamed isn't morally abhorrent at all. Even the image's questionable details-her bared midriff, her right hand hooking her jeans downward-have, as ciphers of suggestiveness, been clichés for so long that they might as well be a "Make Love, Not War" sign. "Who Owns My Heart," one of the few songs to flirt with sexuality, is even cautionary. And nothing about "Permanent December," in which she denies being a "Lolita," suggests that she has actually read the controversial Nabokov novel to which she alludes.
Can't Be Tamed is merely the sound of Cyrus taking the road more traveled (by Tiffany, by Kylie Minogue, by Britney Spears) through a forest in which falling trees only make noise if anyone is there to hear them. It's exactly the sort of career move one would expect from a showbiz teenager intent on not being typecast as Hannah Montana the way her father Billy Ray was typecast as that hunk with a mullet who sang "Achy Breaky Heart."
There are electro-pop dance beats galore. There's a cover of a classic-rock staple (Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"). There's the noxious intrusion of Auto-Tune. There's a boilerplate paean to "Forgiveness and Love," and there's a recurrent "I am almost woman, hear me roar" theme. "Stop trying to live my life for me," she emotes on "Robot." "I'm not your robot. / I'm just me."
But for the most part a robot is what she sounds like-a talented, effervescent robot, but a robot all the same, an automaton put together by the best assembly line money can buy. The credits ascribe "Liberty Walk" to six composers (of which Cyrus is one) and the title track to five (ditto). The four credited only to Cyrus and John Shanks (one of the album's three producers) are the four most lackluster and, not surprisingly, sequenced toward the bottom of the order. Only on the irresistibly catchy "Two More Lonely People" (four composers) do all the cooks not spoil the froth.
Big Hollywood's Brian Cherry has suggested that Cyrus might turn out to be a "Trojan horse" a la the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines, a secret enemy agent in a high-stakes culture war. And she might.
But she'll have to make better music first.
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