This heartfelt tribute to Los Angeles and, indeed, herself, Cyrus’ eighth album may seem more restrained than her usual style, but it remains remarkably captivating. Miley Cyrus’ eighth studio album debuts amid intrigue, an uncommon occurrence for an artist who is anything but shy. Cyrus, a forthright speaker, is typically game for a laugh during promotional events. However, since co-hosting a televised New Year’s Eve special with her godmother Dolly Parton, she has maintained an unusually low profile and even remained silent on social media. Until the week of its release, all we genuinely knew about ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ was what Cyrus revealed through the chart-topping ‘Flowers,’ its unforgettable and fundamentally self-assured lead single: “I can love me better than you can.”
If ‘Flowers’ portrays Cyrus reconstructing herself after a breakup – “We were right ’til we weren’t / Built a home and watched it burn” – then the album serves as a more chaotic, intricate extension of that process. On the dreamy ‘Rose Colored Lenses,’ she reminisces about the highlights of a relationship when “somehow the bed sheets are dirty like sticky sweet lemonade.” However, the intense ‘Muddy Feet,’ featuring Sia on backing vocals and evoking a Lana Del Rey jam session with Kings of Leon circa-2016, reveals Cyrus wronged and retaliating: “And you smell like perfume that I didn’t purchase / Now I know why you’ve been closing the curtains / Get the fuck out of my house!” Cyrus’ indignation is utterly captivating.
‘You,’ a barroom ballad seemingly about a rebound relationship, could even be interpreted as a rejection of heteronormative norms. “I am not made for no horsey and carriage,” croons Cyrus, a queer, pansexual woman who was married to actor Liam Hemsworth from 2018 to 2020. Later, on the brilliant, ’80s-inspired synth-pop tune ‘Violet Chemistry,’ Cyrus suggests that she may not be entirely committed to long-term relationships at the moment. “There’s something between us that’s too major to ignore,” she sings in a crisp staccato. “May not be eternal, but nocturnal, nothing more.”
Sonically, ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ is one of Cyrus’ more subdued works, but it is also sprinkled with surprises reminiscent of her bolder past eras. ‘Rose Colored Lenses,’ one of six songs Cyrus co-wrote with Harry Styles’ producers Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, culminates in a psychedelic whirl reminiscent of ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz,’ the experimental 2015 album she created with The Flaming Lips. The infectious second single ‘River,’ which Cyrus has labeled a “dancefloor banger” with “nasty” lyrics, feels akin to her Stevie Nicks-inspired hit ‘Midnight Sky.’ In a sense, ‘Violet Chemistry’ is a cooler, more alternative version of the assertive electro-pop sound Cyrus explored on her underrated 2010 album ‘Can’t Be Tamed.’
Cyrus has referred to ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ as her “love letter” to Los Angeles, the city she relocated to as a teenager when she secured her career-making role in the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana. She has also mentioned that the album is divided into sections: an ‘AM’ opening segment “representing the morning time, where there’s a buzz and an energy and… a potential of new possibilities,” followed by a ‘PM’ closing portion characterized by a “slinky seediness and a grime yet glamour at the same time.” The division isn’t extremely distinct, but with the exception of ‘Flowers,’ the album’s second half contains its most notable hits. Cyrus is an experienced genre-hopper, but the delightful, reggae-tinged ‘Island’ feels like a fresh direction for her.
Generally, the opening sequence finds Cyrus in more familiar musical territory. ‘Thousand Miles’ is a country-tinged collaboration with Brandi Carlile; ‘You’ allows her to showcase her powerful, throaty vocals, and ‘Jaded’ echoes ’90s alt-rock anthems like The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie,’ a song Cyrus has covered previously. The album’s major curveball occurs right in the middle: ‘Handstand,’ a psychedelic fever dream co-written, somewhat unexpectedly, by transgressive American film director Harmony Korine. The song’s trippy production and enigmatic lyrics – “It’s like you saw a unicorn, you don’t understand / How I’m doing what I’m doing in a fucking handstand” – seem like another homage to the ‘Dead Petz’ era.
Ultimately, the album commands your full attention, even if it isn’t Cyrus’s boldest or most innovative work. ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ certainly feels like an accurate reflection of who she is as an artist – and a person – in 2023. She’s still figuring out what she wants from a relationship. She knows she can pull off different musical styles even when she’s not aiming for bangers (or ‘Bangerz’). And when she sings “But don’t forget, baby I’m a wildcard” on the third-to-last song, you’ll undoubtedly believe her.