by Clio Fleese
Listen to Younger Now here:
Miley Cyrus’ Younger Now is an album that makes one think “…Oh…okay…” at the end, but not in a good way. After teasing her newest album as some sort of epiphanous rebirth, a passion project filled with her newfound inner peace and happiness, Cyrus presents us with, at best, a couple real songs among several okay ones. After listening to the album multiple times, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something missing, which I have now accepted as the unexplainably poor production, which weaves itself through almost every song on the album.
It’s no secret to anyone that Miley has had a hard time with her image. We’ve seen it in the media and heard it in her music, from the desperately rebellious break from Disney on Can’t Be Tamed, to the tongue-out, quasi-twerking Bangerz era. Most recently we were presented with an acid-trip, modern hippy image on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. For all of their potential merits, none of these drastically different albums could shake a sense of overdone different-ness. Miley has never managed to be discreet about her desire for change, or at least perceived change. Lately that goal has manifested itself in controversial and dismissive comments about hip-hop. After getting the sense that Cyrus essentially committed a cultural drive-by of hip-hop, embracing it rather hastily and dismissing it just as quickly, it’s hard to feel any sense of security about the lifespan of this current version of Miley.
This lack of surety and trouble with commitment is unable to hide within the fabric of Younger Now. There are so many different musical styles and techniques happening on the album, and practically none of them are done well enough to really work. The two lead singles, ‘Younger Now’ and ‘Malibu’, are upbeat and cute, sure, but they offer nothing special in terms of production, songwriting or musicality. ‘Rainbowland,’ a Dolly Parton collaboration named for Cyrus’ own home studio, lacks production on an almost offensive level, allowing Miley’s godmother’s amazing voice to be completely lost in some parts of the song. The clearest we hear Parton is in the loving recorded messages bookending the song, but otherwise it might as well be any studio backup singer because of how little you can hear her voice.
Lyricism is consistently uninspired, using cliché metaphors and low-hanging concepts. On the breakup song ‘Week Without You,’ Cyrus uses the easy “not like other girls” image: “How I’d love not to stress / I’d go and grab my old blue jeans / I’m sick of wearing this silly dress.” The blandly moody ‘Love Someone’ does an unconvincing job of a free spirit mentality: “Kickin’ off my shoes and runnin’ towards the sun / I said ‘Nothing’s really worth it unless you’re having fun.’”
There are, of course, reasons why this is not a zero-light bulb review. Although not particularly innovative or transformative, mellower songs like ‘I Would Die for You,’ ‘She’s Not Him,’ and ‘Inspired’ have more energy than any of the louder songs on the record. These particular songs have the passion that I had expected based on Cyrus’s interviews, a passion that the entire album desperately lacks. ‘I Would Die for You’ has incredibly romantic, sweet lyrics (“I have your heart, I don’t even need a ring / I’d give up all I have in exchange for who I love more than anything”), but the unexpectedly minor chords suggest an interesting, dark undertone. ‘Inspired,’ an ode to Cyrus’ father and to her political passions, really does sound inspired. It’s an uplifting call for change (a word mentioned throughout the chorus) that gives us a glimpse into Miley’s new attitude and lifestyle. ‘She’s Not Him,” allegedly about ex-girlfriend Stella Maxwell, is a spacey heartbreaker and remorseful apology for not being able to fully invest (“And you don’t deserve all the bullshit I’ve put you through / You, you deserve a heart much bigger than one that’s torn in two”).
On the whole, there is no way around it: Younger Now is disappointing. Miley Cyrus makes some same old mistakes along with brand new ones, and just does not deliver enough to balance out the negatives. But there are glimmers of promise hidden in the album, which Cyrus will hopefully choose to stick with and improve instead of making another unsuccessful attempt at a clean slate, square-one approach.