Sunday, November 29, 2020

Review: Plastic Hearts • Miley Cyrus

As her generation’s chief provocateur, Miley Cyrus gets a thrill from shifting into new territories without much warning. “Everything changes me forever. And I’ll never be who I was yesterday. [...] I do evolve very quickly, because I’m very absorbent, like I just take everything in,” she told Zane Lowe recently. Each of her musical phases is undertaken with such intensity that her most recent presentation always seems like the definitive version of herself – the precedent of which she will never supersede. While Hannah Montana has enjoyed a resurgence as meme fodder and Cyrus herself has deemed the imagery of “Wrecking Ball” already worthy of homage, nothing feels quite as essential as today’s Miley Cyrus. Her hair chopped into a sloppy mullet and her lips painted deep red, she revitalizes the glam rock lifestyle – leveraging the scandal and defiance that she has otherwise presented in appropriated street culture and drug-infused chaos.

“Midnight Sky,” a new pinnacle in Cyrus’ career, was the harbinger to Plastic Hearts, her rock-indebted seventh record. Inspired by and later remixed with Stevie Nicks, the single delivers the best possible combination of elements in a Miley Cyrus song: Thrashing bass meets metallic synths, demanding the full weight of her voice to compete with the energy. With inspiration, co-signature, and collaboration from rock music’s legacy names, the rest of Plastic Hearts follows a similar trajectory with contemporary flair: Rock titans Joan Jett and Billy Idol appear on uncanny replicas of their own areas in rock music, while disco revivalist Dua Lipa appears opposite of Cyrus on “Prisoner,” a slamming rocker made for the dance floor. As integral sources of public demand for a Miley Cyrus rock album, live covers of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and the Cranberries’ “Zombie” are included as bonus tracks in near-studio perfection, spare perhaps some slurred diction in the former.

Much of it originating from the remnants of a scrapped extended play trilogy, Plastic Hearts paints the recent past with harsh, heavy strokes: “I brought you down to your knees, ‘cause they say misery loves company. It’s not your fault I ruin everything, and it’s not your fault I can’t be what you need,” she sings on the gripping rock ballad “Angels Like You.” Cyrus oscillates from reflection, when the record shies away from hard rock and into a variety of gritty mid-tempo cuts, to deflection, when rock ‘n roll takes its grip in many forms. Some cuts lean into traditional appeal – like the shouty title track or the Joan Jett feature "Bad Karma," which finds its rhythm from a thick kick drum and chopped moans – while others interpret the genre with a progressive mindset. "Gimme What I Want," for example, echoes her past life as a synthpop artist through the power of electric bass and well planned, digitized harmonies.

Plastic Hearts has offered reason for many to revisit Bangerz, a polarizing album that funneled heartbreak and self-sabotage through a hip-hop lens, and reference it as a contrast point to this effort. While both records equally embrace and regret recklessness, there is perhaps only one other through line drawn between them: Somehow still villainized for leaving the children's entertainment sphere over a decade ago, she continues to battle scrutiny. ("I wonder what would happen if I die. [...] Maybe that day you won't hate me," she proposes on "Hate Me." Ouch.) It's a war she and her counterparts likely will endure for the remainder of their careers, but Plastic Hearts can certainly be counted as a battle won. Not a single moment of the record underutilizes her voice, her presence, or her power: Representing the musical space within which she most comfortably resides, it is the record Miley Cyrus was destined to produce. That is, until the next one proves us wrong once again.

Plastic Hearts is available now via RCA Records.

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