Miley Cyrus‘ musical career is unusual in that it has charted her corresponding development as a woman, and her efforts therein to emerge from the shadow of a phenomenon that has defined her identity since she was a child. In fact, when comparing her career and stardom to others around her, the only people whose experiences come close are other Disney stars whose lives have had a similar trajectory.
On such a journey there are bound to slip-ups and controversies, and Cyrus is no stranger to those. But in the course of her seven studio albums, she has had the freedom to invent and reinvent herself and her sound to her heart’s content, and she has certainly made good use of it. While not all of those guises have been successful, on latest offering Plastic Hearts, the Tennessee girl from Hannah Montana has found the best fit yet.
Earlier this month, Cyrus was asked on Twitter why she hadn’t done a full rock album yet. Her response: “Your wish is my command”. While Plastic Hearts isn’t quite a flat-out, honest-to-God, rock album, it’s the closest she’s ever come to one. At first glance, the album is littered with female rock icons from throughout the ages. From a cover of Blondie‘s ‘Heart of Glass’ gleaned from her performance at this year’s iHeart festival, to ‘Edge of Midnight’, a remix of lead single ‘Midnight Sky’ featuring the legendary Stevie Nicks, the record is plastered from wall to wall with the types of women Miley is trying to emulate with her newest evolution. That doesn’t even include the appearance of modern pop royalty Dua Lipa, a cover of the Cranberries‘ ‘Zombie’, or features from Billy Idol and Joan Jett. This is an album that is grateful for its roots, and those roots shine through loud and clear in the music.
Opener ‘WTF Do I Know?’ is a pulpy, raucous pop-rock number that plays into Miley’s hands nicely with its hair-raising chorus and low, run-on verse which gives her voice the chance to exhibit two of its most unique characteristics early doors. It’s straight down the line, early-noughties-era pop-punk, and that’s not such a bad thing.
But it’s later on where the album really starts to shine. ‘Night Crawling’ (featuring Billy Idol) is an ice-cold, straight-faced slice of cheese that sounds like early Gaga meets Scissor Sisters in the best way possible. It’s all echoing “whoo-whoo”s, and glittering synths, and is undoubtedly a record highlight. Elsewhere, lead single ‘Midnight Sky’ cranks up the ’80s nostalgia with a thick, chugging bassline and dancing synth lines.
This is an album that celebrates where Miley has come from, and where she is now. The influences she’s taken from ’80s legends like Blondie, Idol and Nicks can be felt all over. The sort of ’80s production values that have become a mainstay of modern pop by the likes of Dua Lipa and Carly Rae Jepsen also feature liberally, along with an unsurprising production credit from Mark Ronson. Miley’s vocals have also never been more distinctive or impressive, with her voice at times low and drawling, before skyrocketing into another chorus with rasping, growling quality.
The subject matter of Miley’s music has never been nuanced, and listeners looking for a deep dive here will be disappointed. But what the album lacks in substance it makes up for in style and self-assuredness. There’s decidedly less pretence here than in Miley albums of the past. Instead of a persona she’s putting on, there’s a sense that what we’re getting here is the truth and nothing but the truth, which is a refreshing change.
At still only 28, it feels as if Miley Cyrus has been around for years. And that’s because she has. This is an artist we’ve watched grow, from being a child pop sensation, through her rebellious teen years, and into adulthood. For lifelong fans of Miley Cyrus, her latest offering will be yet another reason to adore her and her work. For everyone else it could be something much more exciting: the first big step in the right direction.
Miley Cyrus’ Plastic Hearts is available to stream and purchase now.