The days when Miley Cyrus was synonymous with a naked ride on a wrecking ball and doing unmentionable things with a foam finger and Robin Thicke seem a very long time ago now. Following Younger Now’s foray into country rock in 2017, Cyrus’ seventh album sees her fully embracing the rock goddess you suspect she’s always wanted to become.
While this is all very different to the Hannah Montana days and even the Bangerz of a few years ago, in reality Cyrus has been laying the groundwork for this new direction for some time. She played a manufactured pop star who just wanted to sing Nine Inch Nails covers on an episode of Black Mirror, and Dead Petz, her collaboration with The Flaming Lips, was the sound of someone trying to escape her Disney past.
Happily, Plastic Hearts is a change in direction that works really well. With names like Billy Idol and Joan Jett guesting, there’s even a sample of a Stevie Nicks song in case you were any doubt that this is a Miley Cyrus album that your dad would feel comfortable listening to.
That’s not to denigrate Plastic Hearts as ‘dad-rock’ though. Cyrus’ voice is pleasingly croaky and bluesy, and songs such as WTF Do I Know and the single Midnight Sky have a swagger to them which proves very infectious. Cyrus’ lyrics, never unafraid to drop an F-bomb, meanwhile will be manna from tabloid heaven for anyone curious about her marital break-up with Liam Hemsworth.
Midnight Sky in fact may well be the best thing she’s ever recorded – a glittery ’80s-influenced disco anthem with an impassioned delivery by a post-divorce Cyrus as she aims barely disguised barbs at Hemsworth – “I was born to run, I don’t belong to anyone… see my lips on my mouth, everybody’s talking now”. The mash-up with Stevie Nicks’ Edge Of Seventeen later in the album is even better.
Cyrus’ voice is impressive throughout – whether it’s belting out the stadium ballad of Angels Like Me or comparing raspy drawls with punk icon Billy Idol on Night Crawling. Prisoner, the duet with the always brilliant Dua Lipa, is also excellent, mixing the two artists’ styles pretty seamlessly.
Golden G-String may not seem the most likely title for a ballad, but mainly thanks to Cyrus’ sardonic lyrics, it’s a highlight of the record. It manages to take a dig at the outgoing President Trump (“The mad man’s in the big chair, and his heart’s an iron vault”) while also taking a look back at her own treatment by the press (“They told me I should cover it, so I went the other way… at least it gives the paper something they can write about”).
Unusually for a relatively long record, there’s actually very few filler tracks to be found and for once the ‘bonus tracks’ are worth hearing – in particular, a thrilling cover of Blondie‘s Heart Of Glass featuring a particularly barnstorming vocal. For an artist who has, through her entire career, played with notion of identity, Miley Cyrus has seemed oddly anonymous and restless over the last few years. Plastic Hearts is the sound of a revitalised artist – and this new identity could be her most successful yet.