Toned down and tuned in, Miley Cyrus turns country balladeer
NEW YORK—She transitioned from wholesome TV kid to pansexual media sensation — and now Miley Cyrus is reinventing herself again.
On “Younger Now,” the sixth album in her already storied career, the 24-year-old dips back into country — the music of her father, singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
But the album, which was released Friday, is despite its oxymoronic title no straightforward return to her childhood — or the innocent days of her country-singing “Hannah Montana” Disney persona.
Instead, Cyrus finds through country storytelling a window to relay a maturing life story of discovering love, heartache and a political voice.
“Younger Now” begins with a title track in which Cyrus declares she has no regrets over a scrutinized life — whose memorable moments include scantily clad twerking and joyful hits from a bong.
“I’m not afraid of who I used to be / No one stays the same,” Cyrus sings, adding: “I feel so much younger now.”
On the title song and the album’s first single, “Malibu,” Cyrus crafts a modernized take on 1970s pop-rock, a gentle electric guitar riff carrying a mid-tempo beat.
“Malibu” climaxes into the most rocking track on the album, a beat coming in after Cyrus describes a journey of building trust and love on the sun-kissed California beach.
By the third track, “Rainbowland,” she goes full country — collaborating with her godmother and fellow Tennessee-born cultural figure Dolly Parton.
Mellow and reflective
However sensational her on-stage antics or divisive her artistic choices, critics of Cyrus are hard-pressed to dismiss her voice, whose rich timbre and four-octave range make her one of the more versatile singers in pop.
On “Younger Now,” Cyrus shows off her lower vocal range and dusts off her country twang which, while it never vanished, she has downplayed as her career developed.
But in showing her new maturity, “Younger Now” also turns the page on some of the spunk that gave Cyrus her musical success.
After the frenetic hip-hop energy of her defining 2013 album “Bangerz” and the playful psychedelia of 2015’s “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz,” “Younger Now” is a mellow affair.
Much of the lyricism appears to reflect on Cyrus’ on- and — now reportedly — off-again relationship with Australian actor Liam Hemsworth.
“I know that I gave you my heart / But you stomped it to the ground,” Cyrus sings on “Week Without You,” a country tune tinged with a doo-wop harmony.
Some fans online suspected that “She’s Not Him” — with the lines “I just can’t fall in love with you / You’re not him” — was an explanation by Cyrus, who identifies as pansexual, of her feelings for New Zealand model Stella Maxwell, with whom she has made out in public.
Cyrus ends on a more subdued note, with a mournful violin behind the guitar featuring on “Inspired.”
The song pays tribute to her father. But Cyrus has said she wrote the songs to come to terms with Donald Trump’s election after the singer, like many celebrities, campaigned for Hillary Clinton.
Questioning how “we can escape all the fear and all the hate,” Cyrus implores the world: “You’re the handle on the door that opens up the change.”
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