Gone are the days of Miley Cyrus pole dancing in front of thousands of screaming pre-teens, or smoking salvia from a large bong at a house party. Miley has, apparently, had her near decade of experimentation and found herself again, essentially right back where she started, living in a happy rainbow land.
Younger Now, her latest, is a country pop album that lacks clear chronology. To call it timeless would be a mistake, as that indicates a more lasting appeal, but Miley does float in some odd, newfound balance between past and present on this project. If she hadn’t been pulled through the TMZ ringer back in 2009 for her very typical teenage behavior, this could easily have been her third album — not her sixth.
That the road back to her roots has been so long does come with rewards. The sappy, sometimes plain, never too deep songwriting has an earned quality to it, now considering her past tumult. On lead single “Malibu,” she sings, “I never would’ve believed you if three years ago you told me / I’d be here writing this song” and she sounds genuine, with distant pain in her voice. It’s hard to deny the sweetness of this sentiment. Unless you’re a tabloid writer or a Twitter stan, we don’t generally wish for the emotional downfall of a distant pop star we don’t know. There’s a lot of real joy in hearing that she’s happy with who she is now.
The problem, though, is that there is a piece missing on this timeline, and it is hard to accept that we’ve arrived at this cute, content and inoffensive country pop album without practically any reference to the era from Can’t Be Tamed to Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz. In many ways, that era of Miley is the one which we’re most familiar with now, and this pivot will strike many as confusing, especially since it goes largely unprocessed on this release. There are no serious cathartic tracks about her past, no explanations for her behavior. Instead, we’re meant to simply accept that this is, yet again, the new Miley.
It’s this missing piece that makes Younger Now, while occasionally enjoyable, largely a disappointment. When the feverish background vocals on “Malibu” really come through on the second chorus, you want to grab that Miley by the shoulders, pull her out from behind the curtain and beg her to scream louder. It’s like she’s hiding behind a well-groomed version of herself who needs you to know that she’s fine, and what that strangles is the satisfaction some prior tracks had, like “Wrecking Ball” and “Lighter.”
There are a few moments of fun here. The title track can be played a few times over and still be enjoyed, and “Inspired” is nice enough, almost actually inspiring. There’s an endearing Dolly Parton feature that’s mostly notable for the voicemail from Parton, where she talks about recording on a cassette and using a flip phone. The rest tends to bleed together.
Which brings me to another Friday release that also suffers from a bit of blandness. Four Tet’s newest album, New Energy, is a not nearly the whiplash of Miley Cyrus’s genre switch, but it does include some boundary pushing beyond his discography, as Kieran Hebden is want to do.
He keeps to his trademark here, mixing very natural, life-like sounds on top of a subtle club beat that is always controlled and never explodes. He uses an Eastern-inspired harp noise on this release, and it remains a constant throughout, applied most intriguingly on “Lush” and “Two Thousand Seventeen.” The former bounces back and forth in simple trance, while the latter moves languidly between the Eastern harp and soft, moody synths. Hebden has a skill for changing the scene up just when you thought the sound would get redundant. It’s what made Rounds and There Is Love In You so powerful and interesting.
He employs that on this release too, but lets some of the duller moments go on for longer than they should. “Daughter” sags at the start, as does “You Are Loved,” and though the payoffs are praiseworthy, the build-up can be exhausting.
He would have done well taking a few more cues from his impressive remixes, like his recent of The xx’s “A Violent Noise.” He’s particularly successful when he draws you in just far enough, hinting at a climax that never exactly comes. That might sound frustrating, but by the end you’re itching to start the song over to experience that journey again. Four Tet’s project above all is about the process, so it’s not surprising that there are slower moments on his releases. When it works, you’re left with an infectious inner rhythm that suggests a dance, but one in solely in your head. This is achieved on the album’s single, “Scientists,” which combines voice, drum patterns and the organic harp in a growing chorus that almost reaches a Gregorian chant at its peak.
So as with most Four Tet albums, New Energy can be overlong and taxing, but it manages, at points, to continue the project that Hebden has been working on for nearly two decades.