Turning away from bubblegum pop and ear-piercing EDM, Noah Cyrus returns to her Nashville roots on debut album The Hardest Part, released September 16th. Shining with an irresistible beauty that grows from her pain, vulnerability and courage, the album solidifies her unique, undeniably soulful voice.
Although this is Cyrus’s first full-length album, she made her debut with “Make Me (Cry),” a collaboration with Labrinth back in 2016. While her previous releases were diverse but inconsistent — party pop songs, EDM jams, piano ballads and so on — The Hardest Part is heavily country-inspired, melodious and moving.
Opening track “Noah (Stand Still)” immediately feels clean and strikingly personal. Accompanied only by a simple country guitar, Cyrus sings in a delicate, almost broken voice, ruminating on “the thought that I might not turn 21.” Laying her insecure and vulnerable feelings openly and messily on the table, Cyrus gets unflinchingly honest with her audience. Growing up in the spotlight has its downsides, and she won’t pretend that everything’s fine.
On “Ready to Go,” Cyrus shines with brilliant lyrics and healing melodies. “I stay, we’ll burn; ‘til you leave first,” she sings. The lyrics capture the looming disillusionment of a burnt-out love; she can’t even catch the ashes of it disappearing in the wind. Besides touching lyrics, the rich, echoing harmony adds emotional depth to the song.
The duet “Every Beginning Ends” with Benjamin Gibbard feels conversational even as it explores the heavy subject of failing to revive a dead love. The chemistry between the two singers yields yet another moment of flawless vocal harmony on the album. Although Cyrus has toyed with layered vocals in the past, such as in her summer hit single “July,” the harmonies produced on The Hardest Part feel more exquisite yet effortlessly resonating.
A highlight of the album, “Mr. Percocet” gives listeners chills and hurts like an unhealed scar being ruthlessly torn open again. As the title suggests, the song reflects an unequal relationship mired by substance abuse.
Cyrus patiently walks her listeners through her indulgence, despair and eventual escape from this relationship. With minimal background instruments, the song highlights Cyrus’s poignant, heartbreaking voice. “You, you (I wish that you was kind),” she chants in a desperate, sobering way that contrasts the confusion and insecurity that comes with an abusive relationship. “You’re only mine till your high is gone,” she sings, her lyrics glowing like gold and solidifying her as one of Gen-Z’s most fascinating songwriters.
However, “I Just Want a Lover” is an oddity among a collection of brilliant songs. “In the united hate of America, the hearts are just as broken as the nation,” Cyrus sings at the song’s beginning. The lyrics feel different — somewhat less private, and more like a cynical comment on Gen-Z culture or the pandemic in general. If Cyrus intends to deliver a grand, overarching message to her audiences, perhaps she needs more than just one track to ground her point.
“I Burned LA Down,” another outstanding track, proves Cyrus is most convincing when she’s simply telling her own story. “Embers in the dark, can fall like shooting stars, to a bitter broken heart,” she sings, entrancing lyrics again capturing the haunting power of a dead love.
The Hardest Part is Noah Cyrus’s most consistent record to date. Her music grows like wild leaves and flowers in an abandoned garden: She never trims them with formulaic songwriting, instead allowing them to grow together with empathizing power and uncompromising authenticity.