Miley Cyrus has covered a staggering amount of musical territory over her seven-album catalog. Each time she reinvents herself, it’s not simply just adding a few new influences; rather, a complete shape-shift that transforms the 28-year-old pop star in every facet. In recent years, Cyrus has gone from a pop megastar to tripped-out alt-pop, to rootsy country— with each transformation seemingly more dramatic than the last.
Plastic Hearts finds Miley Cyrus tapping into the larger-than-life rock and roll of ’70s and ’80s, but through the lens of modern pop. What’s striking about the album is its laser focus on songwriting and melody. While the album channels vintage rock attitude, it isn’t overtaken by it. There aren’t flashy riffs and blaring, distorted guitars turned up to 11. Rather, the album stays in the pocket and Cyrus delivers one of her most focused, inspired and mature works to date.
Opener “WTF Do I Know” opens in fine form with Cyrus declaring her arrival over a bass riff and handclaps. “Here to tell you something you don’t know,” she sings as the song lifts into a fist-pumping anthem of rebirth and individuality. Plastic Hearts kicks off launches with some meat-and-potatoes rock. The percussive shuffle of the title track is slickly delivered and instantly infectious, with a bluesy guitar solo to boot.
“Angels Like You” serves as a bridge from Cyrus’ Younger Now sound to her latest effort. It’s not a country song per se, but a mature classic ballad infusing elements of Americana, classic rock and ’80s pop. The tight harmonies add an even greater sense of drama to the track. “Prisoner” is the mega collaboration we didn’t know we needed, bringing together two of pop’s biggest artists in Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa. The two singers’ voices complement each other well, bringing their own individualities. Pairing such big personalities usually has mixed results, but that’s not at all the case here. Instead, we get excellent writing, expert delivery and ace production—a true gem of a pop song.
The dark synths of “Gimme What I Want” mixes samples, loops and deep bass groves over a mysterious smokey canvas.
“So gimme what I want or I’ll give it to myself,” Cyrus defiantly sings as the instrumentation dabbles in industrial rock. Billy Idol collaboration “Night Crawling” is an upbeat synth rocker fitting of, well, Billy Idol. Again, Cyrus’ smokey voice blends surprisingly well with the ’80s. star’s deep delivery.
Lead single “Midnight Sky” is expertly crafted with whiffs of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. That’s fitting as it has already been remixed as a Stevie Nicks collaboration. Cyrus dials it back on acoustic ballad “High.” The restrained track allows Cyrus’ lyrics and sining to shine. “Hate Me” presents a bit of left turn for this album, incorporating ’90s pop-rock sounds.
Joan Jett makes an appears on “Bad Karma,” a percussive song that explores new territory by mixing dark rhythms and trippy vocal samples. It’s striking how much the two singers’ voices sound like each other (in a good way). Then again, Cyrus went through a rebelling phase in the footsteps of Jett. “Never Be Me” is a dramatic departure as it swerves into nuanced ballad land.
“I don’t want keep you in the dark/ I don’t want to gamble with your heart,” Cyrus sings on the trappings of love. Plastic Hearts concludes with “Golden G String,” again an expressive and tender ballad. The record is striking both for its musical maturity and expert song-craft. Cyrus was well-served by tapping into her inner rock star. The result feels fresh despite its influences.
Plastic Hearts brings a musical urgency that’s often missing in the pop landscape. While 2020 is waning, Cyrus turns in a commanding performance and one of the better pop efforts of the year from an artist who continues to reinvent herself. While she doesn’t stay in place for long, her foray into rock is a fun ride.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.