Miley Cyrus’ rock dog era has finally arrived with Plastic Hearts. The singles Midnight Sky and Prisoner have confirmed that she’s leaned into the era, providing us with her most tantalising taste of an album yet. The anticipation is high and we’re hoping she doesn’t let us down.
WTF Do I Know?
Exactly how you’d expect Cyrus to begin her ‘rock’ record. Interestingly, WTF Do I Know? sounds like a matured version of the rock/pop sound that dominated Breakout. This is rougher and tougher though with Cyrus’ voice sounding at home amongst a flurry of guitars and drums. I’d be surprised if this was an album highlight but it’s a bold entrance.
With percussion borrowed from Primal Scream’s playbook, this feels like a ‘90s rock ‘n’ roll nod. It’s the perfect space for Cyrus to blend her natural pop sensibilities with her new rock aesthetic. The chorus of this one is killer. The spacious production allows Cyrus to be gritty while still embracing melody and the softer tones of her voice. Plastic Hearts is the fiirst sign that this record could be great.
Angels Like You
Now we’re in Aerosmith ballad territory which sounds awful to read back but Cyrus pulls it off. Her voice sounds spectacular over acoustic guitar and sweeping strings. The chorus is where she really reaches her peak, soaring as she sings, “Gonna wish we never met on the day I leave”. The theme of this album so far seems to be Cyrus’ inability to attach to a monogamous relatonship. Sometimes she expresses that with liberation, other times it’s with self-loathing.
Prisoner (Feat. Dua Lipa)
The single that arrived last week. Prisoner effortlessly blends the ‘80s synth-disco stylings of Physical with the neon rock of Midnight Sky. Their voices are a match I haven’t considered before but they turn out to be aligned with their smokey tones. In terms of songwriting, it may not be the best cut on the album but their natural chemistry wins out in the end.
Gimme What I Want
It’s shocking to think that Cyrus hasn’t done anything like this before. She’s just so naturally suited to this style and it brings a cohesion to Plastic Hearts that lacked on previous albums. Here she sounds in her element over stormy drums and muddy guitars. There’s a pop backbone to this one too that feels like it would work at radio and strangely inject some rock onto the airwaves.
Night Crawling (Feat. Billy Idol)
Billy Idol and Joan Jett aren’t the kind of features we see our popstars embracing these days but they’re important on this album. It’s a nod to the sound that Cyrus is inspired by and gives it some authenticity. Night Crawling is so Idol sounding that without him on it, it wouldn’t be right. Together, they create thunder. It’s dark and distorting, lost in this furious haze that they both punch through with high-octane vocals. To be honest, the sound of this is so grand that the lyrics get completely lost. It feels more about the spectacle than the sentiment and that’s okay.
A song that has just gotten better and better as the year has progressed. After last year’s messy She Is era it felt like Cyrus may have set herself on an obscure track she wasn’t going to return from. Midnight Sky was the moment we saw her find clarity. The glossy synths combined with the rollicking drums is a perfect bed for Cyrus’ showmanship. She truly doesn’t have to hold anything back whereas in the past it’s felt like she was containing herself to appease the pop sphere, paritcularly on Younger Now. A smash and a true highlight from this year.
The rawest moment of the album yet and it’s a shining highlight. This veers into blues more than rock but Cyrus’ vocal work is goosebump-inducing. She moves from her lower register to her raspiest highs in an emotionally driven performance that continues to find new peaks. “In my head I did my very best saying goodbye,” is a much needed admission of vulnerability on an album that often puts up a bit of a front. One of the best songs Cyrus has ever written.
Now we’re flying. It feels like a wall has come down in the latter part of this album and she’s giving us some real truth. On Hate Me, she ponders what her everyone would do if she died. It’s daunting to consider your legacy while you’re still building it, particularly if you’re measuring it by how people respond when you die. The collective response is part of it but at the end of the chorus she reveals it’s really about an ex - “Maybe that day you won’t hate me.” It’s a dark song but she nails it.
Bad Karma (Feat. Joan Jett)
Bad Karma has been a fan favourite since she sung a snippet on Instagram. Here, it’s beefed up with the help of Joan Jett and it’s better than we could’ve anticipated. This honky-tonk style has been explored before on Younger Now but here she’s unrestrained. It’s the weathered leather jacket of the record, putting up a slick, tough front that’s both sexy and a little vulnerable. She celebrates her badass attitude but there’s also an admission of her flaws. “I’ve always picked a giver because I’ve always been the taker,” she sings. It’s hard to tell if she’s proud of critical.
Never Be Me
Thematically, this is the crux of the record. Everything she’s toyed with on the album from monogamy to self-destruction comes to a head on this beautiful moment. “If you’re looking for faithful that will never be me,” she sings over a neon backdrop created with the help of Mark Ronson. “I hope that I’m able to be all that you need,” is the centrepiece lyric of the song. This is Cyrus looking for someone to accept everything she’s laid out on this record and it sounds like she’s already convinced herself she’s not going to find it.
Golden G String
There are some songs that couldn’t be anything but an album closer and this is it. Golden G String is an ethereal waltz with Cyrus singing as if it’s the final moments of her life. “I should walk away but I thtink I’ll stay,” she concedes, perhaps reflecting on her relationship with the industry which Cyrus has been frustrated with for her entire career. From Hannah Montana days, she’s attempted to escape the boxes she’s been put in. In that way, Golden G String is a triumphant moment. Maybe she’s finally liberated herself on Plastic Hearts.
Best Songs: High, Midnight Sky, Plastic Hearts, Bad Karma
Worst Songs: WTF Do I Know?