‘Endless Summer Vacation’ Scrambles the Reinventions of Miley Cyrus Into a Single Serving

A new Miley Cyrus album has usually come with a new Miley Cyrus. The last Miley was the ‘80s rock revisionist of 2020’s “Plastic Heart.” Before that came the country pop good girl of 2017’s “Younger Now.” Of course, these were pop albums, in a broad sense, that drew from various genres, but eclecticism and pop appeal are relative constants on Miley Cyrus releases. The major surprise of her latest album, “Endless Summer Vacation,” is that Cyrus breaks her streak of serial reinvention. Instead, she just adopts elements from styles as she sees fit. 

In January, Cyrus released the lead single, “Flowers.” A flurry of speculation followed, as the track appeared to draw from her 2019 divorce from actor Liam Hemsworth. But, “Endless Summer Vacation” is not a breakup record, it draws from Cyrus’ life experiences, and roughly half of the songs refer to ill-fated romance. Cyrus has described the album as her love letter to Los Angeles with both AM and PM sides.

A crafty rollout from Cyrus helped ”Flowers” achieve streaming records though it wasn’t needed. The song is simple, but masterfully crafted, widely relatable and resonant. In the first verse, Cyrus reduces her marriage to four short lines and moves on. The beat and funky bassline kick off right upon the chorus line: “I can buy myself flowers,” a simple, inoffensive truth that communicates, “I don’t need you.” This is a strong but misleading start, as much of the album dwells on past romances, starting directly with the next track. “Jaded” is this album’s Miley-style breakup ballad, although its stadium-ready, belted refrain has neither a particularly commanding melody nor a snappy soundbite: “I’m sorry that you’re jaded / I could have taken you places.” The fourth line just repeats the first, both words and melody, making this unabashedly lazy songwriting.

“Rose Colored Lenses” is the song in which Cyrus mentions an “Endless Summer Vacation.” It’s a woozy jam that prods at a head-nodding pace as Cyrus sings, “We could stay like this forever / Let’s just keep pretending.” It would be perfectly peachy if the bad bits of this album were this obviously ironic. Droney repetition matches the lyrics, and psychedelic flourishes recall Cyrus’ Dead Petz stage. If an “Endless Summer Vacation” is the experience of wearing “Rose Colored Lenses,” one would expect that the tone of Cyrus’ “love letter to L.A.” is not necessarily admirable. Some things make more sense in the light. Everyone already knows they could hold their own hand — but do they want to?

“Thousand Miles” is a stylistic departure that places Cyrus in the Americana arena, adjacent to the Country of her family roots. There aren’t many in this genre bigger than Brandi Carlyle, yet this major feature takes a modest presence by Cyrus. She enriches the song dramatically just by adding vocal harmonies. Lyrically, Cyrus looks back to specific moments when she was younger, then pans out and poses broad questions, concluding, “I’m out of my mind, but still, I’m holding on like a rolling stone.”  

It took years of causing trouble for Cyrus to distinguish herself from Hannah Montana, and we’ve now come to expect lyrics from her like those of “You.” “Flip off my exes / Get kind of reckless / And, have wild, wild, wild sex / under the moon.” The curve ball comes when she adds, “But, only if it’s with you.” Such wholesome fare is correctly placed on the AM side. The live version, which initially appeared on “Attention: Miley Live,” does the song justice. Hearing Cyrus’ singing, with all its emotional nuance, up through the belted chorus, with the reverb of the recorded space, is an all-consuming experience. However, the production of “You” on this album is unremarkable. All of the most distinctive and impactful bits have been filtered out of the sounds, including vocals, leaving something relatively generic behind.

“River,” the album’s second single from the PM side, is simply a banger. Here, Cyrus expresses her affection for someone, but not like in “You.” A refrain of “You’re just like a river” might seem silly, but consider other lyrics like, “You go on forever… You’re never runnin’ dry,” and let the nocturnal sonics of this buzzing, pulsating club beat remind you what time it is. “Wildcard,” also on the PM side, is a lyrical negative of “You.” Here, Cyrus sings, “I’ll love when you hold me / But loving you is never enough.” Questionable as this may be, it’s an effective counterbalance to all the sweetness of “You,” and this song’s catchy chorus has what “Jaded” doesn’t. But, Cyrus makes clear that she doesn’t exactly approve of the “Wildcard” approach on this album’s hard-hitter, “Muddy Feet.” Over a minimal beat, Cyrus’ half-sings, as in taunts and battle songs, with a little mockery and much menace. She smells another woman’s perfume, then growls, “Get the fuck out of my house with that shit.” The distinctive lowering of Cyrus’ voice over the years makes for solid and scratchy wails, before Sia enters in the outro, in heavy reverb, drawing Cyrus’ half-sung patterns into harmonies.

There is a rich variety of quality content on the scrambled collection that makes up “Endless Summer Vacation,” but it’s interspersed with some incomprehensibly ill-advised inclusions, like the two lackluster final tracks. And, “Handstand,” produced by Cyrus’ current boyfriend, Maxx Morando, features the most adventurous production but is ruined by a spoken word performance that would be laughable if not so jarring. Perhaps Cyrus should be reminded that not everyone wears “Rose Colored Lenses.” Deadpan displays of grating buffoonery will not always be automatically accepted as experimental art. Nor will they always warrant a lowering of norms. Fortunately, there’s plenty between the understated punch of “Flowers” and the gleeful rush of “River” to enjoy without any lenses.

Endless Summer Vacation” releases March 10 on Apple Music.