Music Reviews
Plastic Hearts

Miley Cyrus Plastic Hearts

(RCA Records) Rating - 6/10

In late September, the internet decided to freak out about Miley Cyrus’ cover of Heart of Glass, the magical new wave classic originally written by Blondie. Cyrus strutted on stage at the virtual iHeart Music Festival and sang the hell out of a rock song that’s always been sneaky and subtle. The cover wasn’t great, but it was more than just a cover; it was a proclamation of a new era for Cyrus, a pop singer who's never really formed an identity but has worn genres and cultures like Halloween costumes. She’s tried her hand at country, southern rap, and even Flaming Lips-esque psychedelia, so it only makes sense that after covering Blondie, she’d morph into a sweaty 80s synth-rocker on her new album Plastic Hearts. While she does have the raw power to make most of these songs land, some of them seem flimsy and phony–a continuation of the genre dress-up Cyrus has become synonymous with.

With production from Andrew Watt, Mark Ronson, and Emile Hayne, Cyrus launches into a cohesive but average showcase of retro synth-pop and glam-rock balladry. She sounds confident here; it’s just the songs themselves that struggle. On opener WTF Do I Know?, Wyatt pulls together a tight beat with an explosive hook and a tension-building pre-chorus. It’s a good way to set the scene but the programmed percussion and phased-out guitar work do most of the heavy lifting. The catchy Hate Me features an appealing chord progression to push the song over an innate chorus. With Angels Like You, Cyrus sounds like she’s summoning the spirit of Brett Michaels in an attempt to turn this hair metal ballad in a bearable direction.

The consistent issue with Plastic Hearts is that giant 80s pop is too easy for Cyrus. As the Heart of Glass cover proved, she can wail her way through any neon rock instrumental just fine. The most exciting moments on this album are when she moves towards slicker, tighter songwriting and production, not retreating to her comfort zone. Filled with colorful nouns and classic cliches over thumping synths and an infectious chorus, lead single Midnight Sky proves this. Cyrus sings a line like “I don’t need to be loved by you” with masterful assertiveness. She isn't overselling it, but she’s doing it just right. It’s flashy but taut, a pristine throwback that nails the landing. If only Plastic Hearts followed Midnight Sky’s lead, we’d have an album of disco-rock that felt true to Cyrus’ strengths.