Younger Now (Sony)
She coulda, oughta been a contender. She may yet be: there’s talent and adventure inside the (various) highly publicised exterior (s) after all. And having survived being a child star, a tabloid star, a multi-platform marketing model, a multi-chemical explorer, and a punchline, there’s resilience and canniness to add to the talent.
But if Miley Cyrus is to be a serious option, musical and cultural – and Younger Now practically shouts its attempt to be “important” and career (re)defining - this is not the vehicle to get her there.
The shiny pop Miley we saw on Bangerz (a sugar-and-electricity record which outlasted the Wrecking Ball memes) and the drug-foggy alterna one on Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz (abetted by The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and possibly a container load of drenched cardboard tabs) have been moved on.
In has moved the woman who recorded an impressive version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, grew up with Billy Ray Cyrus’s oeuvre and record collection (his influence noted in Inspired), and who really can sing, as those who saw her play here in 2014 could confirm.
This version of Cyrus is wearing close-fitting country pop full of meaningful emotion, obligatory droplets of fiddle and pedal steel, mid-tempo verses and meat-rich choruses, and a worthiness that leaches all signs of the self-aware wit that marked her public moments.
Now for me, that last point is the most egregious failure of Younger Now. For the intelligence in Cyrus’ deconstruction of media pile-ons (to build a myth and then to tut-tut over it) and the way an artist can work within and outside that system was even more enjoyable than the shatter-proof pop she was making.
But even setting aside that point as somewhat esoteric/academic, the broader failure of this album is how in aiming for some sort of authenticity – and what is more authentic in a marketing exercise than what is assumed to be rootsy American music, even in its manufactured Music Row zenith? – Cyrus has ended up sounding more false.
Sure, getting Parton, who is her godmother, to partner with her on Rainbowland makes for some charm. Yes, the little early ‘60s vocal group moves of Week Without You sweetens glibness. And the R&B tinge to Thinkin’ is a kind of balance to the glossed over rock that appears in many places.
That most songs are solidly from central country radio pop casting – an area which even away from the chart dominators can encompass Shania then and now, the McClymonts (who do this better it must be said) and some remnants of Taylor Swift you can just see in the distance - show that whatever else, the songs Cyrus and writer/producer Oren Yoel have brought here don’t lack for intent.
But intent is only half the job; there’s also a complete absence of individuality, passion or adventure in this. You can survive falsity for a while, but no one survives boring.