miley cyrus
[Photo via Columbia]

Review: Miley Cyrus Endless Summer Vacation is an ode to independence

For artists in the current music zeitgeist, their work is defined by “eras.” From the clothing they wear to their hairstyle at that moment to the genre they are exploring, the distance between their last record and their next is marked by an overarching theme. If there was one word to sum up Miley Cyrus’ newest era, it would be independent.

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On Endless Summer Vacation, Cyrus doesn’t slam the door to her past. Instead, she steps through it graciously, grateful for the mess and the music that would define her twenties. Her latest body of work is the catalyst of everything she’s experienced in the last decade, within its sound, themes, and lyrics. For years she’s been dancing around pop, rock, country, trap, and every niche genre in between, keeping all of us on our toes as we anticipate what she will explore next. Endless Summer Vacation isn’t really an extension of her last rock-centric album Plastic Hearts, nor is it a complete genre shift either. Instead, it’s a culmination of everything Cyrus has released thus far — the sonic exploration, the experimentalism, and the emotional depth heard through her lyrics — wrapped up in one album.

When the global hit “Flowers” was released at the top of the year, critics and fans alike assumed this would be Cyrus’ divorce album — and maybe it is. But rather than getting swept up in petty diss tracks or being consumed by profound ballads about loss and love, Cyrus turns inward. Echoed throughout the record is the ethos that she knows there’s power in giving yourself the time, space, and energy to bloom. So it’s a purposeful choice that “Flowers” opens the album, marking the record’s entire theme with a few simple lyrics: “I can love me better, baby.” 

The throughline for each song is Cyrus embracing solitude, reflecting on her own actions in past relationships, and learning to enjoy her own company. In particular, she explores these themes through two acts — “AM” and “PM.” Both collections of tracks are juxtaposed against one another with the morning songs embodying a sunny, hopeful disposition and the gritty night tracks diving into sensual territory, like with“Handstand,” which serves as a segue for more of the synth-pop driven songs in the latter half of the album.

One of the record’s standout tracks is “Jaded” the story of regret in a past relationship. Rather than shifting the blame, Cyrus herself points out her own failings in the partnership by not speaking up about things that bothered her. The smooth pop track is buoyed by Cyrus’ silky vocals, cascading alongside a powerful production with a forceful baseline — aspects heard on fan-favorites like “Wrecking Ball” and “Prisoner.”

There was a long stretch of Cyrus’ career that, if you were looking from the outside, seemed to be a desperate attempt to shed the image Disney molded for her. Although everyone now knows she took a wrecking ball to it years ago, Cyrus has been known for honoring every part of her career, past and present. On Endless Summer Vacation there is the sweet naiveté that is reminiscent of her earliest recordings. “You” is a love song for those that know they are difficult to love (“I got some baggage/let’s do some damage […] I want that late-night sweet magic, that forever-lasting love/But only if it’s with you”), a song that recalls 2013’s “Adore You” but with a few more battle scars.

The wistful ‘70s-inspired arrangements on tracks like “Thousand Miles,” a duet with Brandi Carlile, showcases Cyrus’ guttural husky vocals in all of their glory when paired against the song’s stripped-back acoustic guitars and a retro beat. In a similar vein, the somber piano ballad “Wonder Woman” sees Cyrus pay tribute to a maternal figure that has experienced hardship and pain but refuses to stay down. Lyrically and vocally, it’s one of the strongest on the album, as heard on Cyrus’ cutting sky-soaring vocals that effectively convey her emotional depth and vulnerability.

As a whole, Endless Summer Vacation is Cyrus at peace. She may not be reinventing the wheel, but Cyrus is more confident in who she is than ever. It’s an album that not only summarizes the career triumphs and turbulent times she experienced throughout her twenties, but it’s also one that showcases how she unabashedly loves who she is, flaws and all. After all — she can love herself better, baby.