After everyone and their mother put her cover of “Heart of Glass” on repeat for weeks, Miley Cyrus released her eighth studio album, “Plastic Hearts” on Nov. 27. The album represents a huge genre shift for Cyrus from the clean folk-pop of “Younger Now” and the edgy rebrand of “Bangerz” to a hard and fast classic rock album that pays homage to rock artists that came before her. “Plastic Hearts” is a melange of every genre that Cyrus has tried in the past, but this time, she has finally found the perfect balance of rock, pop and folk.

“Plastic Hearts” comes after a tumultuous year in Cyrus’ life in the aftermath of a divorce, alcoholism and rumors that she would join the 27 Club shortly before her 28th birthday. Nevertheless, Cyrus rose above these roadblocks to release an album with her David Bowie-esque blond mullet and bright eyeshadow front and center. Peppered with features from rock legends like Billy Idol and Joan Jett, the album samples from other classic rock hits and mellow, country-leaning ballads that balance the heavy guitar and gravel of Cyrus’ voice.

The arrangement of the tracks relays distinct acts, sections and chapters. “WTF Do I Know,” the opening song, is a grungy intro that gives a taste of what’s to come with carefree, cynical lyrics. In the track, Cyrus tells us that life is full of irony. Lines like “you want an apology / not from me” warn that Cyrus has come into her own and is giving us her whole unadulterated self, a point underscored by rushing, whitewater-like guitar and drums. The title track continues to lend itself to Cyrus’ rough tone but pairs it with a rhythmic drum and borderline tropical instrumentation. Cyrus’ vocals in the melody, harmony and background create a rich sound that highlights her talent and range within each song, especially on tracks like “Plastic Hearts,” “Angels Like You” and “High.” The intro section ends with “Angels Like You,” a ballad that opens with a soft electric guitar and Cyrus’ breathy, quiet melody. The guitar, Cyrus’ voice and the lyrics create an intimate space in which Cyrus despondently reflects on a past relationship.

Miley Cyrus performs at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, in May 2019. (Wikimedia Commons/Raph_PH)

Track five, “Gimme What I Want,” touches on the same themes of independence and transparency as the first few tracks and features sampled drums from Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” in the chorus. Cyrus’ vocals throughout the song create a texture that varies from sandpaper to gravel, giving the track a richly layered sound. The syncopation between the vocals and instrumentals pulls listeners in, and we’re immediately rewarded with Billy Idol’s feature on “Night Crawling.” The borderline new wave track, with a thrumming guitar style reminiscent of Bono, lends itself to synth and same-note harmonies that create a chilling, racing feeling in the listener. 

The tribute to new wave synth-pop doesn’t stop at “Night Crawling.” Songs like “Midnight Sky,” “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)” featuring Stevie Nicks and a cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” round out the album’s pop side. Conversely, the album has a handful of country-inspired tracks, like “High” and “Golden G String” that bridge rock and synth-pop by including elements of each, like harmonies to highlight Cyrus’ high, raw voice and melodic instrumentals.

“Plastic Hearts” is easily Cyrus’ best album yet. It’s as if she’s cycled through pop, teeny-bopper and folk until landing on what’s already proving to be her strong suit: classic rock with a touch of her country roots and synth-pop. Clearly talented, Cyrus has so much untapped potential that she’s finally able to unleash.

Grade: ★★★★★