On her last album, Miley Cyrus shunned the mainstream. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz was a record of freakish alt-pop, covering themes as broad as global warming and pet goldfish over 23 tracks of experimental psychedelica. Having strayed about as far as possible from her squeaky clean child star origins, Miley Cyrus was on a path of raunchy, unapologetic self-discovery. But now, Cyrus wants back in on the mainstream she abandoned just two years ago.
Or does she? On its surface, Younger Now is certainly a more family-friendly affair, but is it one that’s likely to spawn a spate of number one hits like 2013’s Bangerz? Not so much.
On Younger Now, Cyrus takes inspiration from her Nashville roots on an album of guitar-led country-pop, written almost entirely by Cyrus herself. It’s a stark departure from her last mainstream release, a brash EDM-influenced album that boasted enough co-writers to fill a small stadium.
Younger Now is certainly an earthier, more down-to-earth affair, but it lacks the punch of Cyrus’ previous work, favouring strummed guitars over blaring electronics. The choice of ‘Malibu’ as lead single was an early indicator that Younger Now would be light on radio-friendly tunes, the wordy country-tinged track an unlikely hit with its meandering verses and lack of a memorable tune. Even now, whenever I try to hum it, I end up coming out with the far superior ‘Malibu’ by Hole instead.
The problems with ‘Malibu’ recur throughout the album. Though most of the songs feature something resembling a hook, they aren’t quite strong enough to reel us in. ‘Week Without You’ and ‘She’s Not Him’ are good examples, both pedestrian tracks that sound more like rough drafts than a finished product. It feels like Cyrus is making a concerted effort to play things safe, sticking to unimaginative melodies and soppy lyrics to appeal to the largest possible audience. Having alienated a large chunk of her original fanbase during the Bangerz era, it seems Miley is trying to atone for her sins.
But this isn’t the way to do it. On Younger Now, Cyrus steers so far clear of anything remotely controversial she’s basically on The One Show. The nearest she comes to saying something of substance is on ‘Rainbowland’, a duet with godmother Dolly Parton. Speaking of the track, Cyrus said she “wanted to write a song that could really make a difference, that could speak to the situation in not only our country, but the world.” It’s a bold manifesto, but one that doesn’t come to fruition on the schmaltzy duet. The track is full of platitudes, featuring lyrics like “We are rainbows, me and you / Every colour, every hue.” The good intention is certainly there, but the sentiment is fairly empty, the equivalent of a LoveIsLove hashtag on an Instagram post.
Most criminal, though, is Cyrus all but drowning out Parton’s beautiful country trill. Instead, Parton is left on backing vocals, leaving the listener having to strain to hear her distinct voice through Cyrus’ husky tone. It makes for a bit of a mess, albeit an enjoyable one, and Parton’s voicemail messages that bookend the song make her the unintended star of the whole album.
There’s other joy to be found here, too, although in small doses. ‘Thinkin” is one of the album’s poppier tracks, though it fails to commit to the genre wholeheartedly, ending up sounding like a heavily watered down version of what it could – and should – have been. ‘Bad Mood’, meanwhile, is a sulky mid-tempo track that makes good use of Cyrus’ vocals but would have benefited from edgier production. As it stands, it’s a skeleton of a very good electro-pop track.
The album ends with sickly sweet ballad ‘Inspired’ that features Cyrus speak-singing some truly dreadful couplets that sound like the homework of a mediocre eight year old. In the past (most notably on her last album), Cyrus has written some weird and wonderful lyrics, but there’s no sign of any flair here. Younger Now doesn’t really have anything to say, and what it does say is delivered in saccharine childspeak.
On the album’s title track, Cyrus declares “I’m not afraid of who I used to be.” Though she may not be afraid, Cyrus is certainly keen to distance herself from the Miley of old, a Miley who was not only more interesting, but who was capable of much more than this.