She has delivered a hazily atmospheric album that plays to her provocative strengths after years of trying to reconcile chart success with her leftfield musical instincts
The fact that Miley Cyrus’s eighth studio album was leaked and available on illegal download sites a day before its official release is indicative of the high level of anticipation surrounding it. This type of occurrence may seem outdated, as leaking albums typically occurred prior to streaming technology replacing downloads. Nowadays, people are content with waiting for the scheduled release date since they can stream the album for free when it drops.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule. Such is the power of a hit like Flowers from Endless Summer Vacation. Despite Cyrus’s divorce three years ago, its lyrics and video have been painstakingly examined by a media and fanbase eager to find references to Liam Hemsworth’s ex-husband, hitting No. 1 everywhere from Poland to Paraguay.
Maybe people are just excited to see what Miley Cyrus will do next. Since she shed her clean-cut Disney image, her career has been guided by two opposing desires. On one hand, she wants to be a modern pop star, creating the type of formulaic electronic music that is popular in today’s industry – as demonstrated on her 2013 album Bangerz. However, she also strives to be seen as a more unconventional or even alternative artist who showcases the Stevie Nicks-style grit in her vocal stylings – like when she performed during lockdown.
The public seems to have decided which Cyrus they prefer – followed by a duet with Dua Lipa and the disco-flavoured Midnight Sky, her last album Plastic Hearts performed substantially better than its two predecessors – but Cyrus would not have shaken off her Disney shackles in such uncompromising style if she was that concerned about public opinion.
According to Flowers, Cyrus may have achieved a better balance of her conflicting impulses than she did on Plastic Hearts. The album featured sterile rock tracks and appearances by Joan Jett and Billy Idol that didn’t quite mesh with the dreamy synth-pop and uplifting ballads. The title track of her latest album, however, incorporates many modern pop elements such as referencing Bruno Mars’ hit “When I Was Your Man” and paying homage to Gloria Gaynor’s iconic song “I Will Survive.” It also employs the popular technique of dropping hints about real-life experiences throughout the lyrics.
The album’s second half has a distinct separation from the first, with a shift towards electronic instrumentation that expertly maintains its dreamy atmosphere. Although River introduces dance beats and the iconic Roland 303 acid line, it doesn’t feel out of place. Handstand adds some quirkiness to the mix by blending gentle ambient synthesizer sounds with spoken-word narration about “glowing creatures” and an ode to Cyrus’ sexual abilities in the chorus. While it may not be as shocking as Dead Petz’s explicit content, it still provokes a sense of bewilderment.
But Endless Summer Vacation doesn’t often feel like a pop star going through the motions or ticking boxes. Neither does it feel as forced as Plastic Hearts’ attempt to unite Cyrus’ divergent interests into a cohesive album. There’s a naturalness and flow in evidence, and charm as well. The download sites couldn’t disappoint anyone who rushed there.