Saturday, October 7, 2017

Younger Now | Miley Cyrus

Since her Can't Be Tamed days, Miley Cyrus has been pigeonholed as the poster child for hyper-maturity of child stars as they enter adulthood. With a fickle little muse on the hunt for the pop stardom's edgier sides, she went from sexy to absurd and from absurd to alarming. Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, her 2015 passion project released online independently from her record contract two years after Bangerz ignited her public image, was a marijuana-laced call for attention... or help... or both. For what it's worth, at the era's peak, we watched Cyrus cover the raunchy "My Neck, My Back" on stage while wearing nipple pasties and giant butterfly wings.

Now, reversing the underlying desire for maturity that determined her career's schizophrenic trajectory for over a decade, Miley Cyrus is ready to come home. Denouncing her wild, albeit undeniably fun, days spent teddy bear-humping and wrecking ball-riding, she has scrubbed up her image to become an innocent, carefree, Nashville-bred girl once again. And in doing so, she has planted her sixth studio album, Younger Now, at home base, where she began years ago with crossover radio hit "The Climb" – country music, or at least the closest she go to it as a pop artist.

As she admits on the record's title track, Cyrus has never been one to stay in place for very long. And although country-pop is many worlds away from the hip-hop-drenched Bangerz and the psychedelic trip delivered courtesy of Dead Petz, her transition somehow feels as much natural as Lady Gaga and Kesha's moves to country and rock influences in the past year. After all, she is the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus and goddaughter of Dolly Parton, who makes her umpteenth guest vocalist appearance this year on the peace-seeking "Rainbowland." They sing together in a jubilant but nondescript chant, with Cyrus' pipes overtaking Parton's muted warble.

Expanding upon the ignorant, escapist bliss of "Rainbowland," the record lives largely behind rose-tinted glasses, a natural viewpoint for a woman who has just fallen back in love. The breezy SoCal soft rock "Malibu," one of radio's most outstanding songs this year, breathes a sigh of relief after a turbulent past with once-ex, now-reconciled fiancé, Liam Hemsworth: "I never would've believed you if three years ago you told me I'd be here writing this song. But here I am, next to you. The sky's so blue in Malibu." But unfortunately, the album doesn't reach that track's level of outwardly infectious musicality again until "Thinkin'," a sassy, thumping cut toward the record's back end.

Cyrus has always ensured her voice is her music's headliner, never allowing even the heaviest beats of Bangerz to deduct from its power. And the same can be said here, even given how heavily this album relies on her newest image reinvention into a breezy, seemingly non-confrontational singer who is once again family-friendly and undeniably charming. But there are times when love just isn't enough; producer Oren Yoel can stretch the strings of the same acoustic guitar only so far before they break, especially when Cyrus demands on laying her average songwriting atop the same acoustic tone throughout. "Miss You So Much" and "I Would Die For You," for example, both drag listeners through their run times without the reward of a moral or captivating hook.

Younger Now starts and ends on its strongest notes, with the title track and "Malibu" at its commencement and back-to-back ballads "She's Not Him," a sparse reflection on her pansexuality, and "Inspired," a quaint acoustic ballad that shimmers with childhood memories and a bundle of hope, closing the curtains. In between those bookends, it begins to take a mushier formation. Like an undercooked cake, things begin to taste less appetizing than the first few tastes around the outside. Nevertheless, every bite is still sweet enough to take another, which is more than can be said about her last reincarnate. And if she spends more than few years in this new musical phase, she may be able to perfect it before her next outing.

Younger Now is available now under RCA Records.

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