Miley Cyrus has had an up and down musical career thus far, both in terms of quality and public opinion of her and her music. She is no stranger to the spotlight, after all her father wrote one of the most popular country songs of all time and she practically grew up on the set of a children’s TV show, and has had some very public issues in her time. I used to be a fan of her country-pop music as Hannah Montana as a kid and am even not so guiltily admitting that I got dragged along to the movie and enjoyed that, too (The Climb is amazing!) but after that she did drop a little in quality for me. Wrecking Ball is annoyingly awesome and catchy, but outside of that her work through the 2010s didn’t do a lot for me. That is until she went a little more country with her last album, a slight return to form that had some decent songs on there. Now, her latest release from last week is being touted as a ‘rock album‘ and features some pretty great guest acts to solidify that fact. I’m excited about Plastic Hearts, can’t wait too see what it’s actually like!
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WTF Do I Know starts the album off in fairly pop-rock fashion. It opens on some simple drum beats and Miley’s powerful low vocals, singing about how she doesn’t care if she won’t be played on certain radio stations and various other punk adages. Some clean guitar work kicks in underneath the pre-chorus, building up into an explosion of huge distorted guitar and drums, giving it huge amounts of pop punk feeling, like a Blink 182 or Sum 41. The chorus has a good hook too, and the introduction lyrics to it, the same as the song title, are damn catchy. The lyrics take a dip in the chorus, sounding like the focus shifts to her divorce from short term husband Liam Hemsworth, but they are catchy enough that it doesn’t matter too much. There is still a distinct polished, produced, pop feel to the whole thing, but it is definitely more rock than anything she has done so far. It even has a (simple) guitar solo in it, playing around with the chorus melody. A reprisal of the chorus follows before the song comes to an end. A simple if effective, catchy song, and a good way to open the album.
The album’s title track, Plastic Hearts, is up next. It leans a lot more on the pop side of things than the previous song, but I honestly love the vocal melody here, an almost jazzy feel to them. There is some simple piano and low drums behind her voice before a clean guitar comes in too during the chorus, playing the root notes. The chorus is just as catchy as the previous, too, harmless, mass-loved popness. The song does have an impressive guitar solo, though, following along to the vocal melody at times but also going off on its own for technical little runs. It almost had a slight Slash feel to it, massively impressive for a pop song, especially one that is such a big focus of the album. It again goes into a final chorus before ending, and this song really grew on me more and more throughout, becoming more of a favourite of mine than the previous song, a great, catchy number.
Angels Like You is the first slow ballad of the album. It starts simply, a beautiful acoustic guitar riff with Miley’s awesome vocals over the top. Some subtle piano and cymbal work is added into the chorus as Miley goes for it even more, her vocals honestly sounding better than I’ve heard them before. The lyrics are surprisingly beautiful, too, a breakup song that is blaming herself even though she was the dumper, saying whoever she left is still a good person. It’s a really powerful, catchy, fantastic chorus, and the whole song is a huge highlight of the album. It almost reminds me of Shallow, the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga song from the movie A Star Is Born. The subtle guitar solo after the second chorus again has some Slash feel to it and between that, the build-up of the drums and Miley’s vocal melodies, it adds extra oomph going into the final huge chorus. It’s a fantastic, beautiful song, and my favourite off the album so far. This just keeps getting better and better!
Prisoner is the first song on the album to feature a guest, pop artist Dua Lipa. Unfortunately, it is the first song on this album I don’t really enjoy. It’s by far the most pop orientated song so far, with more electronic sounding instrumentation and more dance-song like vocal hooks. Lipa also does very little to distinguish herself from Miley, they both have pretty similar sounding bottom ranges so I was even getting confused between who was who at times. Also, despite how needlessly repetitive this song is, it’s maybe the least catchy chorus on the album so far. There was nothing really to this song, which was a shame because up until now this album had been awesome.
Gimme What I Want clearly channels a lot of the inspiration Miley gained from covering Nine Inch Nails’ fantastic Closer for the Black Mirror episode she featured in last year. The effect on the bass sounds almost exactly the same, as do the simple drum samples. While nowhere near as vulgar or lyrically profound as Closer, I have to admit it is catchier, with a damn good chorus hook and melody. I can see it going down well live, an easy sing-along song. It unfortunately is as simple as Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-end, though, with the song petering out more and more into its basic, industrial-metal-inspired elements. Definitely an improvement on the previous song, if still very pop.
The next song, Night Crawling, features pop-rock legend Billy Idol as a guest vocalist. This immediately hooked me in because I’m a huge fan of the guy (I mean, let’s be honest, who isn’t?). They clearly drew a lot of inspiration from his work for this song, anyway, as it sounds a lot like some of his earlier albums. The electric/synth bassline running through the verse before the simple yet oh so effective guitar stabs to backup the chorus are ripped straight out of the 80s and actually sounds awesome for both of them when they sing. Idol still sounds great, too, and their voices work so well when they harmonise together. I’m shocked we’ve reached this point, but it almost feels silly at this stage to mention the simple yet awesome little guitar solo after the second chorus which empathises the vocal melody so well, as it’s happened in nearly every song. While not quite as good as the ballad, this is still an awesome 80s homage song, and one that made the playlist, at that!
The lead single of the album, Midnight Sky, is up next. This unfortunately gives me the same sort of vibes as Prisoner. I know it’s the biggest song on the album so far in terms of streams so clearly a lot of people like it, but for me it seems a little too generic, a little too much like a lot of stuff out at the minute that is mass produced for the ‘pop’ music fans. Stuff like The Weekend and unsurprisingly, Dua Lipa, two artists that bore the crap out of me. I prefer stuff with a little grit and emotion and edge to it, not the crap, slower, worse side of 80s synth music which has unfortunately made a bit of a resurgence recently. It’s not for me at all, but hey, at least it’s a catchy chorus. This is also a version of this song as a bonus track where it is blended together with Stevie Nicks‘ Edge of Seventeen. I shan’t go into detail, but I will just tell everyone reading to just stick to the Nicks version and leave it at that!
High is another ballad, mainly based around Miley and an acoustic guitar. While not quite as good as Angels Like You, Miley’s vocals throughout are phenomenal, so full of power and emotion. No matter what you think of her as a person, it’s hard to deny she has one of the best voices in pop music today. The vocal melody through the verses has a very country twang to it, too, a nice little throwback to her roots. There isn’t much I can say about this song, the music and the lyrics are beautiful and it really builds up nicely into an awesome last chorus. Another amazing song.
Hate Me feels like another down point on the album. A level of un-self-aware self deprecation not seen since the likes of My Chemical Romance, it is frankly a depressing song. Theorising how people would feel about her death, if I didn’t know any better it sounds like a song about Miley contemplating suicide. A dark topic for sure, and one that feels taken ever so slightly too lightly for the type of song it is. There is no message or satire behind it, and it just makes it feel sad. It doesn’t help that the music behind her vocals is a strange blend of plodding and joyful, giving me a whole weird mix of emotions. Not bad, but definitely not good.
Bad Karma It was foolish of me to expect a song featuring Joan Jett to have to be good. I’m not a fan of her anyway, but I have to say this song is a steaming pile of poop. I couldn’t quite tell Joan’s involvement in the song, so I imagine her only part were the weird, half-sex noises during the verses? Either way, someone who’s name is attached to Bad Reputation, one of the best punk rock songs ever, and then going and attaching her name to this really says a lot about Joan’s current ‘reputation’. This song was boring and didn’t really go anywhere, staying at the same simple sort of level throughout, and had very little along the way of catchiness, with the chorus even being lackluster. It felt like a less heavy, less good Kim Wilde song, and is the biggest let down of the album so far.
Give it a listen and make up your own mind!
So, unfortunately this album has kind of dropped off rather considerably since the Billy Idol song (except for High). What is also unfortunate is that the last two songs on the album, Never Be Me and Golden G String, don’t really offer any improvement at all. Both are two more slow ballad type songs (why god can I not get ONE ALBUM that ends with a big finish?!) that offer little to the table that hasn’t already been brought. And while G String at least offers some great punk style lyrics again, speaking of how she does what she likes no matter what the media say to her or about her, the ones for Never Be Me make her come across like a kind of horrible person. A confusing and lackluster ending to a very up and down album.
Overall, I have no idea how to feel about this album. It is very much a tale of two halves, with the majority of the first half being great and the majority of the second half not really being anywhere neat as good. It was VERY up and down. However I do have to admit, this is the most I’ve enjoyed a Miley album in a good long while, and several songs were incredible and made it onto the playlist. It’s just a shame her more recent pop side shone through a bit too much and we couldn’t have a full on rock/country influenced album. Although, if this is the direction she is going to continue in, I am excited to hear the next one!
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The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths