Photo Credit: Alana O’Herlihy
The instant takeaway from Plastic Hearts, Miley Cyrus’ toe-dip into the dark arts of Rock ‘N Roll, is that her voice has always been the key to her individuality. It conveys pangs of heartbreak, anger, or complicated love in waters much deeper than those her peers navigate. She commands a towering presence in the studio, and a genre as ball-busting and irreverent as this centers her in a lane where she can finally take the reins and run off.
The Plastic Hearts album cover, lensed by the legendary rock ‘n roll photographer Mick Rock (famous for his spreads of Syd Barrett, Debbie Harry, and more), cements its motives with editing — the album appears as a classic vinyl you’d find in your favorite record store, somehow still wrapped loosely in cellophane after all these years). The ‘CENSORED’ t-shirt, the sexy mullet, the ultimate diva move of jewelry over black gloves; they all form a grand paean to the late ‘70s by a randy, rowdy, Millennial fan. It’s part lip service, part sincere commitment, and part slam-dunk.
The album roller-coasters from channeling the mid-aughts angst in an Ashlee Simpson single, to digging into Autoamerican-era Blondie, to spiraling down into the raw power of a Meat Loaf ballad — in the first three songs. Lead single “Midnight Sky” is possibly the most badass Miley’s ever sounded, her throttling mezzo-soprano redlining as it nearly burns out. “Bad Karma” with Joan Jett is another slick killer; the understated production is a total tease courtesy of Mark Ronson, who also produced “High” and has collaborated with Miley in the past.
Highest highs in the track list come through in the Deluxe additions, each a different reinterpretation of a rock classic: “Edge of Midnight”, a “Midnight Sky” remix/“Edge of Seventeen” mashup with new vocals from Stevie Nicks, “Heart of Glass” performed live at the iHeart Festival, and “Zombie” live from the NIVA Save Our Stages Festival. She breathes vigorous new life into each that’s undeniably her; covers have been a strong suit in her arsenal since the beginning of the last decade, and her versatility is ridiculously enviable.
Even though it’s evident Miley’s found her sound, she still doesn’t seem entirely convinced, pushed in too many directions in her already-long career. The unexpected tempo shifts in “Hate Me” aren’t enough to save it from its overbearing chorus, and “Golden G String” packs a message and a wonderful instrumental but loses some of its punch in its metaphors. Even still, her commemorable performances serve as reminders of her status among entertainers. Her confidence is unsullied again and again, and that alone makes the album worth returning to.