On Miley Cyrus’s last tour, she took to the stage wearing a unicorn horn and a giant strap-on. From fresh-faced Disney star to experimental, sexually-liberated wild child, this was the result of a dramatic transformation that culminated in a dizzying, psychedelic album made with the help of The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and given away for free on Soundcloud. Hannah Montana this was certainly not.
But fast forward a few years and Miley Cyrus is in a very different place. She’s still the pansexual, vegan hippy she was back then, but gone are the outlandish outfits, the headline-grabbing stunts and the controversial music videos. Instead, what we find on new single ‘Malibu’ is a much more back-to-basics Miley, relaxed and easy-going and finally, it seems, happy.
‘Malibu’ is a return to Cyrus’s country roots, both in its music and lyrics. Lightly strummed electric guitar and gentle percussion make for a laid back, summery sound, though a more upbeat chorus adds something a little more poppy. Lyrically, the track is an ode to Cyrus’s on-then-off-now-back-on-again man Liam Hemsworth, a celebration of their rekindled romance against a backdrop of sunsets, beaches and lazy Malibu days.
Unlike most of Cyrus’s recent output, ‘Malibu’ is startlingly sweet. Too sweet, perhaps. Whereas on her last album, Cyrus wrote tracks about climate change, dirty talk and dead goldfish, a song about domestic bliss feels a little beige. The cliches of ‘Malibu’, from watching the sun go down to feeling “as free as birds”, are almost too many to count. While this is all fine, it’s rather tame for a woman who once dressed as a baby and sucked from a bottle to promote her single ‘BB Talk’.
What we get on ‘Malibu’ feels more like the Miley who gave us watery pop ballads like ‘The Climb’ than the phallus-wearing pop rebel that spat out the likes of the wonderful ‘Karen Don’t Be Sad’. And many fans will be overjoyed at this, having yearned for the Miley of old ever since the release of ‘Can’t Be Tamed’. But for others, myself included, this feels like something of a step backwards, less the dawn of a new era than a return to an old one.
While ‘Malibu’ is not without its merits – its daydreamy chorus and Miley’s signature husky vocals are more than pleasant – this nonetheless feels like a regression. Cyrus should be setting her sights on Grace Jones’s now empty experimental pop throne, not larking around with airy bits of aren’t-boys-nice fluff like this. So although it’s great that Cyrus has finally found her peace, we can’t help but yearn for the days when she was causing chaos, tearing up the rule book and recklessly charging into the unknown.