Producing some of the best songs of Miley's career, a stellar first-half can't quite make up for a failed promise and a tonal dissonance dominating the record as a whole.
Say what you want about Miley Cyrus, you can’t deny she’s one of the biggest artists working right now. She’s come along way from the Disney Channel Hannah Montana days and gone through many changes in her persona and her music. While there’s been a fluctuation of stability that has always been captured in the music she chooses to make, she’s always managed to stay relevant and pump out some absolute bangers in the meantime and Plastic Hearts is no different. Admittedly, it’s not completely the rock album we were seemingly promised, but a hybrid of rock and country which works well for the most part. It’s main issue is that while the rock components easily see Cyrus at the top of her game, its country trappings is its weakest part. There’s just an overwhelming sense of genericness at times, which never fails to surprise me coming from someone who tends to feel so authentic.
Album opener ‘WTF Do I Know’ is a strong indication for the rock feeling that Cyrus sets out to capture. It has that immediately strong bass guitar at the forefront which merges perfectly with Cyrus’ twangy voice and you get a good sense of some of the inspirations coming into the album. This isn’t Cyrus replicating the often male-dominated sounds of the 80s or 90s rock, but drawing from all those killer females that popped up during the time like Debbie Harry and Stevie Nicks (who later appears in the album). It has that undeniable sense of strong female attitude while resisting the limitations posed within the genre; the mixture of rock and pop works so well within ‘WTF Do I Know’ that you immediately become sucked in into the music. This is the same for the legendary track ‘Night Crawling’ featuring the incredible Billy Idol. Making use of the most iconic of the 80s sounds with synthy beats, a heavy electric guitar, and a powerhouse chorus and vocals, the song just epitomises the Rock influences of the album and is easily the stand-out track. Cyrus and Idol’s voices just work together in perfection and there’s a Halloween-esque campiness imbued throughout it that it teems with nostalgia while managing to sound startlingly fresh and new.
That’s not to knock the three other original iconic rock-style singles like ‘Prisoner’, ‘Midnight Sky’ or ‘Plastic Hearts’ though, with these five songs ranking easily at the top of Cyrus’ career so far. However, it’s the latter song, ‘Plastic Hearts’ that becomes the second stand-out song with its obvious stylings around Daryl Hall & John Oates’ ‘Maneater’ and encapturing a real campy vibe that often makes Cyrus a bit queer icon. It’s easy to dismiss ‘Plastic Hearts’ as more pop than rock, but its inspirations are so specific that its a surprisingly smart homage. From its use of Djembe drum, a tambourine, some clapping and a piano; Cyrus manages to create a sense of originality within the song while still alluding to another time of rock and almost exemplifies perfection. The song isn’t necessarily complicated, but it has that sense of personality that just makes it stand out.
However, it’s after these songs that Plastic Hearts begins to fragment. ‘Angels Like You’ attempts to be a rock ballad but gets caught up in weary lyricism that it feels misplaced when it falls after ‘Plastic Hearts’ but before ‘Prisoners’. ‘Gimme What I Want’ has more of the rock and female empowered attitude which is strengthened by a great chorus, but at the same time it still somehow feels unremarkable. It just doesn’t leave much of an impression. Then after these songs, Cyrus finds herself caught in the second half of the album with a grouping of comparatively weaker songs. ‘High’ is arguably the best out of the five songs, easily helped by the fact its produced by Mark Ronson and has some genuinely moving lyrics. It’s deeply introspective and retrospective and anyone who knows about Miley Cyrus can probably hazard a guess about what she’s singing about. Yet, again the song just feels so remarkably unremarkable. Another song people will recognise Cyrus singing about herself is ‘Golden G String’, alluding to the many times she’s changed her persona on stage and in life. It has characteristic humour that I really like, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics like its title may suggest but musically it’s rather dull. It just feels like it never goes anywhere, and once you’ve listened to it once, you feel like you’ve listened to it a hundred times. The other three songs often create a hybrid rock and country vibe, two genres which arguably mix well, especially in their ballad format. It just feels like all the energy disappears in these five songs, only to reappear in the final three songs (two are covers and one is ‘Midnight Sky’ remixed with Stevie Nicks). Thankfully, these last three songs help elevate the energy once again but ultimately the damage has already been done by then, and this rock album ends feeling… confused.
I don’t think this is a bad album. What it is though is an album that doesn’t quite deliver on the promise Miley Cyrus offered us. It’s certainly Rock at times, but it never stays completely faithful to the genre either. It’s jammed pack with weary ballads rather than anthems, and it just doesn’t carry the energy or attitude all the way through. When it’s as its best, it really is a highlight of a career, when it’s not, then it’s just average.
Plastic Hearts is available to listen to now via RCA Records. Check out it’s title track down below.