Miley Cyrus Goes Country, Almost, on Latest Album ‘Younger Now’

Miley Cyrus is saying hello to authenticity on her new album “Younger Now,” or so it would seem. The 24-year-old pop star is leaving behind her psychedelic spandex, tucking away her tongue and packing her Dead Petz up in a box to show the world that she has abandoned her wild side in exchange for her country-pop roots. What might be hard for Cyrus to square with herself, however, is that the “Wrecking Ball” aspect of her persona may have been what fans liked about her most. The question that remains is are followers of her rap/pop hybrid album “Bangerz” and her progressive-folk fans of “Dead Petz” interested in a toned-down Miley who strums a quaint country tune about life and love?

The first taste of Miley Cyrus’ new album came from “Malibu,” a single that’s hard to define. There’s a driving indie-rock guitar progression and country-esque vocal arrangement accompanied by lyrics tracking her reclaimed relationship with Liam Hemsworth. The production falls flat though, even amongst all the pop-song tropes. Both her and longtime collaborator Oren Yoel worked to make “Malibu” and a handful of the other tracks on the album incredibly minimal, lacking a punch that many expect from Cyrus after 2013’s chart-topping “Bangerz.” Sure, it’s not altogether fair to compare apples and oranges. But when an artist produces an apple first, it’s impossible not to look at the orange and think, “I mean, it’s alright, but it’s no apple.”

Songs like “Thinkin’” and “Bad Mood” make no sense on an album that’s supposed to be a reach back to her country origins. Again, sonically indefinable with lackluster production. These back-to-back songs make all the wrong choices when it comes to construction. The choruses are meant to be catchy, but aren’t, and each sound is mish-mashed instrumentally, and even rhythmically.

Things get better with “Love Someone” which walks the line between country and blues featuring reverbed guitar licks and the singer’s signature husky tone. And then there is “She’s Not Him.” Sure to be one of the most talked about songs on the album, the love ballad of sorts touches on Cyrus’ romantic relationship with Victoria Secret model Stella Maxwell during her Hemsworth hiatus. The song reads like a heartfelt letter. It is raw and authentic, and in true Miley fashion, progressive.  

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Cyrus is making a clear and competent turn towards authenticity. Whether it’ll stick or not, is a story for another day, but for now, she’s embracing it. On “Miss You So Much,” she lays out a harrowing story of a close friend’s passing via drug overdose. “I Would Die for You” is just as sincere with a chorus that, if supported by a more robust production, would be ultimately powerful. This really is the salt in the wound. Each song feels lacking in production, as if it wasn’t mixed properly. These aforementioned songs, including the lead single “Malibu,” appear to have been thrown together without any forethought to their overall sonic intention.  

One’s twenties are, of course, formative years. Everyone goes through varying changes in style, taste and the like, but Cyrus must be picking up new fans as quick as she’s losing old ones. How could she not when both of her albums since “Bangerz” are markedly different? What was promoted as a country album, only partly feels as such. “Rainbowland” tries to bridge Cyrus’ past with her newfound country vibes. Dolly Parton, her godmother, helps make it palatable.

The album closes out with an ode to Hillary Clinton, “Inspired,” where fiddle overtones make the song feel like the most country song on the album – and it just so happens to come at the very end. While “Inspired” and “Rainbowland” can, and should, be considered solid country tunes, they unfortunately fall within an album that doesn’t know its own name, let alone what genre it’s supposed to represent.

Younger Now” is available Sept. 29 on Apple Music.