Miley Cyrus’ Endless Summer Vacation is the perfect goodbye to messy histories and hello to new opportunities. Teased by the enlightened divorce bop “Flowers,” Cyrus zeroes in on the independence angle as she reflects on past relationships and finally accepts the heartbreak while welcoming in new love for herself and others.
The pop star’s eighth LP is as much a statement of moving on as it is a mature amalgamation of her musical history. There are moments of perfect, on-trend radio pop blended with country, psychedelic rock, and Eighties synths. The final result is a powerful artistic statement, focused and clear-eyed as Cyrus seems to have found herself in her thirties.
Here are key takeaways and first impressions of Endless Summer Vacation.
It’s not a straightforward divorce album.
Plastic Hearts (and the one-off kiss-off “Slide Away”) were Cyrus’ more direct statements on the end of her marriage to longtime love Liam Hemsworth. The two had been “to hell” together, as she mentions on “Jaded,” having experienced on-and-off engagements, a devastating house fire and, ultimately, a rocky matrimony that ended more quickly than either anticipated. “Flowers” — and the countless fan readings of all the potentially shady references to Hemsworth’s alleged infidelity — made people think Cyrus was working on an album-length review of her marriage that would prove even more scathing than her previous releases. But while there are pointed break-up moments on Endless Summer Vacation — on the visceral “Muddy Feet,” she sings “You smell like perfume that I didn’t purchase” — Cyrus is firmly in the present, pleased about where she landed.
Much of the album is focused on budding romance and intimacy — and features Cyrus’ new beau.
Swerving away from all the “Flowers” discourse, Cyrus focuses on love and sex for most of the songs on Endless Summer Vacation. The tracks are buzzing with the hope of new love and the end of sexual and romantic droughts, as the second single “River” shows. Other tracks like “Rose Colored Lenses,” “You” and “Violet Chemistry,” are dripping with the intoxication of meeting a new lover who makes it feel like you’re the only two people in the world. To take it one step forward, Cyrus even worked on a pair of these new songs with her latest beau, who is likely the inspiration for the more hopeful material on the album. She has been stepping out on red carpets with musician Maxx Morando, who is credited as a writer and producer on “Handstand” and “Violet Chemistry.”
The features are surprisingly subdued.
When it was revealed that Brandi Carlile and Sia would be featured on the album, many anticipated big-voiced sing-offs between the stars. Instead, both Carlile and Sia merely offer gorgeous harmonies and ad-libs on their respective tracks, keeping Cyrus front and center. In the credits, her more surprising collaborators like director Harmony Korine (“Handstand”), James Blake (“Violet Chemistry”) and Greg Kurstin (“Jaded”) never detract from Cyrus’ clear vision.
Cyrus is oddly more authentic when she lets herself be all creative versions of herself at once.
Since her Disney days, Cyrus has bounced dramatically between musical styles and big personal statements. Whenever she’s shard a new version of herself, she’s jumped all the way in, completely shedding her past in the process. Endless Summer Vacation feels like a pure distillation of her entire musical history, ebbing and flowing together in seamless harmony. Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson’s Nashville-inspired yet forward-looking pop production helps keep the sound cohesive while allowing plenty of space for old friends like Mike Will Made-It to come back into the fold and unlock something new with Cyrus. In her music, Cyrus has never had a clearer eye on the target. This time, she’s shooting to kill.
Above all else, the focus of this album is Miley.
At the core of each song is a decidedly independent Miley Cyrus, one who is reflecting deeply on what it means to be your own partner. Tracks like “Thousand Miles,” “Island” and “Wonder Woman” zero in specifically on the complexities in being your own support system: the sadness that often propels you to that discovery as well as the freedom and relief that follow. And unlike her past songs about love and intimacy, Cyrus largely avoids the self-deprecation and dependency of her past songs on the same subjects. Instead of presenting herself as a red flag like she did on most of Plastic Hearts, she gently makes clear that the strong will survive.
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