Thanks to Miley Cyrus, buying yourself flowers is now the ultimate act of self-empowerment. Spending six consecutive weeks topping the United State’s Billboard Hot 100 charts, “Flowers” jammed ears and radio waves alike, leaving fans curious as to what Cyrus had in store for her eighth studio album.
Released March 10, Endless Summer Vacation reveals the former “Hannah Montana” star’s new era. Although this is Cyrus’ first studio album with Columbia Records, the 12-track record serves more as a reflection on her past rather than an outright detour into a new identity. Cyrus may be known for switching genres from album to album, but this time she refuses to stick to one musical style for more than a couple of songs.
Opening with none other than “Flowers,” Endless Summer Vacation immediately tickles listeners’ anticipation for the ensuing tracks. Following the disco-doused splendor of the lead single, the second song, “Jaded,” takes on a slower beat, giving rise to wistful moods. Dreamy synth-filled verses build into the song’s chorus, in which Cyrus’ full vocal strength is unleashed. Her powerhouse belts balance the vocal constraint of “Flowers,” making the entrance of an acoustic guitar in the first post-chorus feel like a blanket of light strings to rest upon before the next build-up.
Maintaining the album’s momentum, “Rose Colored Lenses” is the essence of an endless summer vacation (its lyrics even contain the album’s title). The buzzy bass, woozy background vocals and loose drum beat create an intoxicating atmosphere of euphoric bliss. Cyrus even manages to make the residue of bodily fluid sound like a playful delight, turning sheet stains into “sticky sweet lemonade.”
Keeping up with her affinity for collaborating with famed artists, Cyrus features two singers on Endless Summer Vacation. On “Thousand Miles,” Brandi Carlile’s folky harmonies subtly layer Cyrus’ lead, adding a country touch to a song about sisterhood. On the more heated bridge of “Muddy Feet,” Sia’s signature vocalizations passionately nail in the song’s don’t-mess-with-Miley message.
One song that stands apart from the rest is the bluesy ballad “You.” Though Cyrus has been performing “You” since her live-streamed 2022 New Year’s Eve Party, the studio recording of the ballad offers novelty for even the most familiar fans. Emanating texture through sound, the track feels like the velvet touch of an antique loveseat in an underground cocktail lounge. It’s rich. It’s raw. It’s gritty. The smoke of Cyrus’ voice swathes listeners in sweet seduction.
Midway through the album, Cyrus delivers a three-song taste of electronic-pop. In “Handstand,” she reveals her sexual talents to a dancey beat, lightly singing, “You don’t understand / How I’m doing what I’m doing in a fucking handstand.” Despite being layered in synth and techno rhythms, “River” and “Violet Chemistry” similarly leave room for Cyrus’ dynamic vocals, elegantly balancing numerous sonic elements.
The cohesion of Endless Summer Vacation starts to unravel by its end. Though Cyrus’ gravelly belts are impressively robust, the repetitive lyrics and lagging chord progression of “Wildcard” drag down the momentum the earlier songs set forth. The mesmerizing intro of “Island” momentarily sets the album back on its feet, but ends up leading listeners to the predictable chorus’ formulaic melody, which contains the question, “Am I stranded on an island or have I landed in paradise?”
Even “Wonder Woman” doesn’t save the album’s end from slipping into banality. As the piano sets in and the melody establishes itself, it’s hard not to think of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” Cyrus’ gritty outcry in the second chorus momentarily frees the ballad from this similarity, but the main melody’s return ultimately coats the end of the album in a clichéd aftertaste (and memories of ASPCA commercials).
The genre fluidity of Endless Summer Vacation may not work entirely in Cyrus’ favor, but her ambitious and sincere dip into various musical identities displays versatility and maturity. Whether it’s through a nod to her previous albums or her complicated relationship with her ex, Cyrus isn’t redacting any part of what has made her who she is today. She can do a lot more than buy herself flowers and she isn’t afraid to show it.