Image: Mick Rock
Miley Cyrus is a rock god. She’s been performing rock songs her whole life, showing her legion of fans the rock roots she grew up on. In 2011, I attended the Sydney leg of Miley’s first ever ever Australian tour. Performing through her hits, some of the shows standout moments were the covers. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, I Love Rock ’n’ Roll and Bad Reputation by Joan Jett, Landslide by Fleetwood Mac and Cherry Bomb by The Runaways. She may have been performing songs from a pop record, but it was a rock ’n’ roll show. Fast forward almost a decade and Cyrus has delivered an impeccable body of work that exists between the fantastic realms of 80’s rock and disco. Plastic Hearts is Miley at her best. Raw, unapologetic and glamourous. Who else could get music icons such as Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Billy Idol and Dua Lipa all on one album?
The record opens with the riotous WTF Do I Know, the punk influenced track is a bad ass, bold anthem of defiance. “So tell me, baby, am I wrong that I moved on? And I, and I don't even miss you” Cyrus sings. Moving on from lost love and navigating the emotions that come with it are a conceptual thread woven throughout the record. Cyrus has often stated that women who move on from a relationship quickly are seen as cold, here she challenges that notion, reclaiming her own narrative. Continuing the 80’s rock ’n’ roll influence, title track Plastic Hearts sees Cyrus longing for real connection after receiving hollow companionship. The track makes reference to Sympathy For The Devil by The Rolling Stones in its intro, continuing the influences from iconic rock ’n’ roll greats.
One of the records standout tracks, within a body of work of standout tracks, is Angels Like You. The evocative and introspective lyricism showcases Miley’s skills as a songwriter, creating vivid imagery with an emotional and vulnerable vocal performance. The track also makes lyrical connections to Gimmie What I Want, with Cyrus singing “Take off your clothes, pretend that it's fine, a little more hurt won't kill you tonight”. In the latter, she sings “Pleasure leads to pain, to me they’re both the same”. On both songs, Cyrus references the feelings of pleasure and pain are the same to her. Gimmie What I Want sonically floats around electric-pop, still bringing in those 80’s influences, whilst centered around Cyrus offering someone the chance to be her lover, whilst letting them know she doesn’t need them to feel complete.
Plastic Hearts has created some of the best collaborations of 2020. Bringing the 80's disco vibes to 70's rock ’n’ roll heaven, Cyrus teams up with Dua Lipa on Prisoner. The track features Cyrus' gritty and commanding vocal performance, perfectly complimented by Lipa's smooth vocal. Whilst they explore the hold an ex-lover can have on you, making it hard to leave. Miley Cyrus and Billy Idol joining forces is honestly what the world needed. Night Crawling is THE song. It’s sexy, it’s compelling, it’s hardcore and it’s badass. Idol is a punk-rock / disco-rock icon so it only makes sense that he and Cyrus would come together to create what is arguably the best song of 2020. Both musicians command your attention as they navigate the juxtaposing sides of their psyche. Through her collaborations with some of musics greats, and her incredible covers of Blondie’s Heart Of Glass and The Cranberries’ Zombie, Cyrus is exposing her fanbase to some of the greatest artists to shake up the music industry. Something Cyrus does again and again with each release.
Lyrical similarities can be drawn between Night Crawling and Midnight Sky. “Gotta listen when the devil’s calling” Cyrus and Idol sing on Night Crawling, with Cyrus’ lead single off the record containing the lyric “Can’t bite the devil on my tongue”. Both tracks also make reference to darkness and the cover of nightfall. The sensational Midnight Sky is pop-meets rock with a disco twang. It’s glam disco rock. Touching on the singers personal life over the past year, Miley gives a phenomenal vocal performance, drawing comparisons with Joan Jett, Debbie Harry and Stevie Nicks, with Nicks featuring on the official remix of the track.
On High, Cyrus teams up with her Nothing Breaks Like A Heart collaborator, Mark Ronson. The track continues the thread created on Prisoner, focusing on missing someone yet you are still thinking of them and picturing your life together. Again, Cyrus creates vivid imagery through her emotional and evocative lyricism. “Sometimes I stay up all night, ‘cause you don't ever talk to me in my dreams. And I think about eventually, you're holdin' me, and dancin' to the record like a movie scene” she sings with her strong and powerful vocals. Ronson also worked on Bad Karma, which features legendary rock trailblazer Joan Jett. Again, the duos vocal performances perfectly highlight each others gravelly and captivating vocals. Two badass women joining forces on a track that doesn’t care about how many broken hearts trail behind them.
Cyrus wonders what would happen in the wake of her death on Hate Me. What would her friends do? Would her ex-lover care? She recalls on a previous relationship, knowing the other person has removed her from their thoughts. Sonically, the track is one of the records most interesting. It builds to a crescendo, with a heartfelt performance from Cyrus. The introspective song leaves the listener pondering the questions Cyrus presents in relation to their own life. That is the mastery of story telling. Never Be Me is the sonic definition of the 80's. Full of synth melodies and epic drum beats, the track is almost the more emotional, power ballad version of Midnight Sky. Both tracks touch comment on the unpredictability of Cyrus' personality with Never Be Me conceptually focusing on a fleeting relationship, much like Angels Like You. There's also similarities between the song and her 2013 track, Someone Else, with "If you're looking for love know that love don't live here anymore" on the 2013 release and "If you're looking for someone to be all that you need, that'll never be me" on Never Be Me.
Closing the record with Golden G String, followed by some live recordings of cover songs and the Edge Of Midnight remix of Midnight Sky, the psychedelic tinged track has a Bob Dylan and country music twang to it. The most pared back song on the record comments on hierarchical structures and trying to own you own power and sexuality. The pulled back production allows a moment for the fragility of Cyrus' vocals to truly shine, but still holding the fierce performance presented throughout the record as a whole. The sensitivity and rasped qualities of her performance have reminiscent qualities of John Lennon, especially when set to the rock/pop psychedelic sounds present.
The musical chameleon that is Miley Cyrus has delivered a phenomenal and carefully curated body of work. The deeply considered record is a statement from the singer, shaped by the loss of her home in a California wildfire, and her divorce. She brings all the pain, suffering and guilt that shrouded these events to the collection of songs, offering up a vulnerable examination of her own thoughts and emotions. Cyrus doesn’t hold back, she never has. Open and honest, she knows no musical boundary. Cyrus’ influences for the record ranges from Metallica to Britney Spears, showing how the versatile artist isn’t defined by genre. Exploring rock music is not an easy task for someone who was considered a pop-princess during her teenage years, but Cyrus stepped up to the task and delivered one of her best records yet. Seven albums in and Miley has brought a new breath of authenticity to her music. It feels like she was meant to be a rock god, with her gritty and lyrical prowess. I’ve been waiting for Miley to release a rock infused record since she stepped on stage in Sydney that night in 2011 during her Gypsy Heart Tour, and although it took nine years, it was well and truly worth the wait.
Plastic Hearts is out now!