Lately I have the impression that, for artists, anything goes to say or imply that their records are conceptual. Miley Cyrus has said that hers is divided into “AM” and “PM” because the first part is morning and sunny and the second more nocturnal and “chill”, but when you listen to it you discover that it really is not like that, that the two parts of the disc have a bit of one and the other. Ironically, the sequence of ‘Endless Summer Vacation’, Miley’s eighth album, could be so much better, and you know how much a poorly thought out or careless sequence can ruin a record.
The disc seems to be ordered upside down, starting at the end. ‘Jaded’ and ‘Red Colored Lenses’ should play later, but they occupy tracks 2 and 3, respectively, frustrating the rhythm of the record, which begins with ‘Flowers’, too early; and ‘River’ and ‘Violet Chemistry’, the obvious singles after ‘Flowers’, take time to arrive, as if they were irrelevant, playing in the second half of the record, following each other. If the sequence of ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ responded to an attempt to give lyrical unity to the whole, it would be more or less understandable, but that’s not the case either.
It is not mandatory for a pop record to conceptually follow a narrative. Miley has said that ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ is her “love letter to Los Angeles”, but the album simply brings together her latest personal experiences. A dramatic breakup has marked her life and ‘Flowers’ talks about getting over it and loving yourself. Miley reminisces about good times (‘Red Colored Lenses’) and tells her ex to fuck off (‘Muddy Feet’) but also reminds us, over and over again, that she is “wild” and “unpredictable” and that she doesn’t compromise. with nobody (‘Wildcard’). In ‘Island’ she reflects on the loneliness of fame. He dedicates ‘Wonder Woman’ to her mother, the ballad that, in the Disney special, she has sung with Rufus Wainwright at the piano.
The album sounds as summery as its cover, and its production, deliberately dirty and “makeup”, seeks a semi-alternative aesthetic similar to that of the Harry Styles album. The mention is not in vain: three main authors of ‘Harry’s House
‘, these are, Kid Harpoon, Tyler Johnson and Thomas Hull, they are very present in ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ making it clear that this is not another “commercial” pop record overloaded with special effects and desperate to conquer the charts. Miley, like Harry, goes about her business.
Then there are the songs. ‘Flowers’ has been a monstrous success that few of us have really seen coming, a stupendous song that Miley has turned into a classic without the help of featurings, like Harry Styles or herself, and that has permeated thanks to its empowering lyrics, already iconic in that “I can give myself flowers”, and its classic melody, so classic that in fact it’s directly taken from Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’.
It’s striking that, after such a macrohit, the album takes time to present clear singles: the pop-rock of ‘Jaded’ is fine, but it’s not an ace up its sleeve after ‘Flowers’. The same can be said of ‘Red Colored Lenses’, with a dizzy bedroom-pop base, and neither the country-pop of ‘Thousand Miles’ with Brandi Carlile nor the Motown ballad of ‘You’, which Miley had already premiered in straight, they get the record off the ground. They are correct songs and I doubt that they will be canonical in the Miley Cyrus repertoire.
After the bridge of ‘Handstand’, an atmospheric production by her boyfriend, Maxx Morando (formerly of the Regrettes), which works better as an interlude than as a song, ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ begins to show its teeth. ‘River’, the second official single, is a thrash-pop banger that will soon be playing in every gay club you know. Next, ‘Violet Chemistry’ is reminiscent of Miley’s pop star days, specifically ‘Fly on the Wall’… and it’s so full of hooks that you won’t believe James Blake wrote it (along with other people).
The list of authors of ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ includes other names such as Sia, Tobias Jesso Jr. or even Harmony Korine (‘Headstand’). They all work at the service of Miley’s amazing voice with more or less success. ‘Wonder Woman’ is the sweet ballad of the year, but Miley saves it thanks to her prodigious vocal performance. The relaxed ‘Island’ could have been signed by the Lorde of ‘Solar Power’, for good. Less convincing is ‘Wildcard’ or the irrelevant ‘Muddy Feet’, in which, inexplicably, up to 11 people have participated. Sia, the guest artist, is limited to doing choirs at the end, but her presence does not contribute anything to the song, much less to the course of the album, as she did not need it.
In an attempt to close ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ with coherence, the album ends with a piano version of ‘Flowers’ which is supposedly the original demo: we can believe it or not, since lyrics and melody are exactly the same on both versions. However, ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ ends up being a worse job than expected, a strange journey in which things seem not to be in the right place, scattered and that does not fulfill the promise of the success of ‘Flowers’ or of the evolution shown by Miley in ‘Plastic Hearts’. This is still her best album.