It can’t be easy for Miley. Once America’s darling on Hannah Montana, Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter broke into pop music and found herself a superstar before she could vote. Chart-topping hits like “Party in the U.S.A” were generated by record execs and got Miley on MTV, but even her fans knew that this wasn’t Miley’s voice. In 2013, Bangerz spun everyone on their heads as we watched this former child star pose topless for controversial photographer Terry Richardson, twerk onstage with Robin Thicke, and smoke a ton of pot. Next, she released Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz with The Flaming Lips, Sarah Barthel of Phantogram, and Ariel Pink. Again, she seemed to be struggling to find her own identity, instead taking on the aesthetic of Wayne Coyne and writing a few strong tracks amidst a sea of shock lyrics.
Miley wanted us to look at her, and we did.
On her latest album, Younger Now, she wants us to hear her first. The trouble is, this album doesn’t feel complete. The 11-track record is the star’s attempt to return to her country roots with the album cover featuring a much more conservative and wholesome image. The album’s title lets us know that the party is over; Miley has a lot of growing up to do. There’s no denying that Miley looks happier and healthier in recent months, part of which has to be attributed to reconciling with her fiance Liam Hemsworth. Still, one of the strengths of Miley’s previous records was her gutteral passion and impressive vocal range, neither of which come through on this album.
“Malibu”, the album’s first single, is meant to invoke a sense of wonderment and spirit that we all know Miley to have. The song falls flat, however, and feels overproduced. Where is Miley’s voice? It’s muddled by acoustic guitars and soft synths that don’t fit. Not even guest vocals from Dolly Parton on “Rainbowland”, who happens to be her godmother, can save Younger Now. The country legend’s talents aren’t put to good use here, likely due to the odd production of the song itself.
It’s hard to take the ‘new’ Miley seriously when we’ve seen her transform so many times before. When pop stars do a 180, it can feel disingenuous and planned, and I can’t help but feel that way about Younger Now. I want to like this album; I am a huge Miley Cyrus fan and thought Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz was one of the most original records of 2015. But even that didn’t feel entirely like Miley’s idea. The 24-year old superstar isn’t going to lose any sleep over negative reviews, but hopefully she will find that passion again. Until then, tracks like “Miss You So Much” from this album and “Pablow the Blowfish” from Dead Petz will have to do.