Let it be known that I went to bat for “Plastic Hearts.”
In 2021, Miley Cyrus released what may end up being her magnum opus. “Plastic Hearts” was daring and risky, a complete shift from her earlier pop records to full-on rock. With covers ranging from “Heart of Glass” to “Zombies,” and features including Stevie Nicks and Billy Idol, the album paid respects to the stars who pioneered the sounds Cyrus referenced.
It also bombed commercially.
If not for that, “Endless Summer Vacation” could have been a much more interesting album than what we got on March 11.
My expectations were high for another rock album that would build on the sounds she experimented with on “Plastic Hearts,” and instead she backed away in favor of something safe because of the commercial failure of her experimentation.
Almost every song on Cyrus’ newest album is a sonic regression from her peak in 2021. “Flowers,” the lead single, is the definition of wide-appeal pop made for the masses — it was the fastest song to hit 500 million streams on Spotify by miles.
There’s a place for mass-appeal music. I love Taylor Swift more than most of my friends, and I respect Harry Styles.
My problem here is that Miley Cyrus released this album.
And the irony of it all is that playing it safe doesn’t seem to be paying off beyond the lead single. “Endless Summer Vacation” debuted to just 30 million streams on Spotify on its first day, an abysmal showing given the hype surrounding the first released song. For reference, “Flowers” single-handedly peaked at 18.4 million streams in a day, the fourth-highest total of all time behind only “All I Want for Christmas is You,” “Easy on Me” and “Last Christmas.”
All that being said, there are some bright spots to be found. “Handstand” is the most unique song on the album, with wacky production and nearly-whispered vocals. It also conjures up some … funky … images with its lyrics, from riders on comets to what I can only assume is something sexual to do with a handstand. I don’t want to think about it too much.
“Handstand” is immediately followed by my favorite song on the album, “River.” I’ve heard a dozen songs just like this, particularly on Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia,” but I love it anyway. It’s upbeat and energetic, and I’m sure it’ll be stuck in my head for weeks.
I’m also a fan of the aggressive “Muddy Feet.” Cyrus sounds like a mix between a rockstar and a country singer here with shouted vocals on the chorus. Sia is featured on the song, though, so I won’t be relistening. I avoid supporting artists who condescend to autistic people with little-to-no remorse.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
Cyrus also has a winner in “Rose Colored Lenses,” which gives the album its title in its second verse where Cyrus sings, “Endless summer vacation / Make it last ‘til we die.” The song is laid-back and cool, and its energy perfectly matches the lyrics where Cyrus asks her lover to “stay like this forever.”
Questionable features and scattered highlights aside, the rest of the album is a disappointment.
The worst thing a song can be is offensive, but being boring is a close second. “Flowers” is catchy but hollow, “Island” makes use of my least favorite metaphor in songwriting (something is like an island, how original!), “Wildcard” is forgettable and “Wonder Woman” is a painfully average ballad to close the album on.
And the worst part of this whole album is that it could have worked. Cyrus is giving her all to the vocal performances on each song, but her vocals aren’t suited to the production at all.
“Jaded,” the second song on the album, is clearly meant to be a rock song but is hampered by run-of-the-mill pop production that would be at home on an album by half the artists working today. “Thousand Miles” is an interesting song featuring Brandi Carlile, but it would have been more at home on Cyrus’ 2017 record “Younger Now.”
Everything else on the album falls into the trap of mashing Cyrus’ at times too strong vocal performance with weak instrumentation, making her sound out of place on her own songs.
If someone I have less respect for as an artist had released this album, maybe I would have felt better about it. For Cyrus, though, this entire record is a step backward.