In an attempt to obliterate her ‘good girl’ perception, Miley Cyrus transformed the Hannah Montana facet of her persona into a provocative pop-megastar on 2013’s Bangerz. Going toe-to-toe with a crooning Future on one track, and gliding over seamless Pharrell production on another, she populated that album with an abundance of legitimate R&B/hip-hop-inspired bangers before draining the remaining energy of this identity in 2015 on the psychedelic, obnoxiously self-indulgent, but criminally underrated Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
2017’s Younger Now marks her return as the daughter of Billy Ray – the Miley Stewart half of this poetically Disney dichotomy. The record is devout in rehabilitating the innocent and well-spoken puppy dog-eyed girl who spends her time lounging in a flowering field and wouldnever dream of getting anywhere near Robin Thicke. That previous party persona seems merely a dream to Miley, a misstep in the current narrative. The sonic qualities of Younger Now attest that this facade has been lost to the void. We’re back to wholesome Miley now – though, sadly, we don’t get the best of both worlds.
The plucking of acoustic guitar strings teases the album’s titular opening track from a stormy soundscape. “Feels like I just woke up/Like all this time I’ve been asleep” Miley exhales, insinuating the reckless posturing central to the Bangerz era was simply a firing of neurons in the night. Setting the stripped-back tone for what’s to come on the record, ‘Younger Now’ then flows seamlessly into ‘Malibu‘, still one of the year’s greatest chart-topping hits. Next is ‘Rainbowland‘, where the sounds of a lost Grouplove cut host the album’s only feature, Dolly Parton. However, she’s limited to background vocals – proportionally rivalling Beyoncé on Frank Ocean‘s ‘Pink + White’ in ratio of popularity of artist to size of feature – a reminder that this is, firmly, Miley’s album. Younger Now may boast the sound of a singular producer, frequent collaborator Oren Yoel, in an effort to tie up Miley’s reinvention in a neat little bow. Though, as a result, the music sounds cut almost entirely from the same damp cloth. Yoel’s production works only to show Miley undeniably flows better over a beat if Mike WiLL Made-It.
Miley’s reinventions seem to be iterative, though her current phase suggests this cycle is not always beneficial. In shaking herself from the nightmare she identifies as her previous phase, Miley manages to get her feet on the floor with a stretch and a yawn, but ultimately fails to find her footing – producing a record dripping too profusely in samey songs. ‘Thinkin’’ and ‘Bad Mood’ do their best to provide the latter half of the album with some much needed oomph, but the constantly minimalist guitar riffs over percussion that’s too damn soft prove that she’s at her best in collaboration, especially with someone a little groovier behind the boards. What results here is elevator music, by comparison.