On her 2010 Don’t-Call-Me-Hannah-Montana album “Can’t Be Tamed,” Miley Cyrus covered Poison’s 1988 power ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” The rendering is a mess: a medium difficulty “Guitar Hero” solo, blind sprays of auditory glitter, drums so compressed they sound like lasers. And yet, in such ungodly soil, an auspicious seed has been planted: Maybe Miley would sound great singing ’80s arena rock.
A decade and many stylistic twists and turns later, Cyrus’ seventh album “Plastic Hearts” comes to the same wise conclusion. Take one of his highlights: the melodious, melancholy, acoustic guitar-driven ballad ‘High’, which finds Cyrus sounding – in the best way – like a hair-metal frontman suddenly hooked to unearth a tender side. “Sometimes I stay awake all night,” she sings, tapping into a rich vein of melancholy, “because you never speak to me in my dreams.”
Cyrus enjoys embracing new genres, and she rarely announces these aesthetic hubs with subtlety. The Dolly Parton cameo and the leather Nudie costume she sported on the cover made it known that “Younger Now” was her country album; the “Bangerz”, influenced by hip-hop, presented a quantified value of rappers and the famous grills of Cyrus; The Flaming Lips assisted psychedelia of “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz” began with the lyrics: “Yeah, I smoke pot / Yeah, I like peace.” And so here is “Plastic Hearts” with its cover photographed by Mick Rock, the photographer known for his portraits of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and the Ramones. Mulling and sniggering at his own high-contrast photo, Cyrus, 28, almost screams, “Are you ready to rock ?!
But it’s not just cosplay. (Although grown-ups know that rock stardom always involves at least one little cosplay.) “Plastic Hearts” is not a trendy rebranding from Cyrus but a compelling argument that she has always been some kind of old soul. In addition to her contemporary Dua Lipa, who shares the sleek and fun duo “Prisoner”, the older guest stars of “Plastic Hearts” make up an evocative ‘’80s rock mood board: Joan Jett, Billy Idol and Stevie Nicks – plus the grizzled whine of Cyrus, which sometimes feels like a fusion of the three.
Cyrus’ voice has always been a unique instrument: hoarse, a bit froggy and – when a song calls for belts, like his great ballad “Wrecking Ball” – surprisingly muscular. Even at age 14, when she was cast for the Disney Channel series “Hannah Montana,” her voice seemed to carry a pathetic beyond her years. As Cyrus grew older and more comfortable experimenting with her genre presentation, she seemed to revel in the inherent and liberating androgyny of her voice. The buzzing low end of “Plastic Hearts” allows it to play with its throaty depths, and the industrial churn of “Gimme What I Want” provides the song her alter ego “Black Mirror” Ashley O dreamed of singing.
For all their posing power, however, these songs (all with writing credits for Cyrus) aren’t afraid of becoming vulnerable. Written in the wake of her much-publicized 2019 split from now ex-husband Liam Hemsworth, Cyrus occasionally indulges in wink and tabloid bait provocations (“Maybe getting married just to cause a distraction She sings in the opening). But more often than not, these songs are self-acceptable statements of imperfections (“But if you’re looking for something stable, it’ll never be me / If you’re looking for followers, it’ll never be me”). Or, as she puts it on “Bad Karma,” a snaking and absorbing duet with Joan Jett, “I always chose a donor ‘because I have always been the taker.
Two live covers that have recently made the rounds online – and are affixed to the end of the album’s digital edition – reveal both the limits and the surprising power of Cyrus’ vocals. Her muscular take on Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” sadly blows the tone of the song: Gone is the shrugging charm of Debbie Harry’s jaded falsetto, in favor of an all-caps, karaoke-esque claim that Cyrus can really sing. Much better is his quivering and near-perfect performance of the Cranberries’ “Zombie”, which expresses such a respectful understanding of the song’s melodic leaps and emotional pull that one doesn’t even question what the old one does. Hannah Montana singing a ‘An alternative rock classic from the 90s about post-traumatic stress and decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.
But that probably hasn’t been a good question for quite some time now. In those “Can’t Be Tamed” days when her transformative-wig-wig post-Avril alter ego always smirked at plastic lunch boxes, the last keepers of rock music’s supposed authenticity probably couldn’t think of it. to an enemy more obvious than Cyrus. But, as she knowingly puts it on the album closer, a song that’s a lot more thoughtful and understated than its title, “Golden G String,” suggests, “The old boys hold all the cards and they don’t play the game. gin. “
After years of relentless reinvention, it seems that Cyrus has found a suitable context and, as a bonus, rock music has found its most serious and prominent millennial ambassador. Maybe rock isn’t dead – it’s just in the capable hands of Miley Cyrus.