MILEY CYRUS: Plastic Hearts (RCA)
Verdict: Charismatic tour de force
GARY BARLOW: Music Played By Humans (Universal)
Verdict: Engaging big band tunes
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG: No Fun Mondays (Reprise)
Verdict: Homespun pop and punk
Miley Cyrus leaves nothing to chance in highlighting her growing interest in rock music on her new album.
There are guest appearances by punk icons Billy Idol and Joan Jett and a nod to The Beatles. An extended digital version of Plastic Hearts contains Blondie and Cranberries covers and a cameo from Stevie Nicks.
It’s a far cry from its predecessor, Younger Now. On that 2017 album, the daughter of Nashville singer Billy Ray Cyrus reconnected with her country roots by ditching the electronics of 2013’s brash Bangerz. Her latest effort strikes a balance between the two: it’s loud and direct, but there are bouts of strummed reflection.
Miley Cyrus leaves nothing to chance in highlighting her growing interest in rock music on her new album
Her latest album, Plastic Hearts, strikes a balance between the two: it’s loud and direct, but there are bouts of strummed reflection
Originally titled She Is Miley Cyrus and due out last year, the record was put on hold as the singer, 28, underwent surgery on her vocal cords last November. With further delays due to coronavirus, it has since undergone significant change.
In the three years since we last heard from her, Miley has been married to, and divorced from, actor Liam Hemsworth. If Plastic Hearts had turned out as a break-up album high on self-pity, nobody would have batted an eyelid. It’s nothing of the sort: sung with gale-force power and abandon, it’s a statement of intent from an independent single woman.
‘I was born to run, I don’t belong to anyone,’ she bellows on the pulsating dance number Midnight Sky, acknowledging past mistakes while vowing to get on with her new life.
Never Be Me addresses infidelity. A country ballad helmed by Mark Ronson — a producer more accustomed to retro-flavoured dance than lap steel guitar — it finds Miley warning a prospective suitor that she’s a free spirit who can’t be tamed. ‘If you’re looking for faithful, that will never be me,’ she cautions.
There are subtle nods to yesteryear. Angels Like You opens with a riff that owes a little to George Harrison’s guitar intro to The Beatles’ In My Life. The raucous title track starts with Stonesy percussion played by Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. Idol’s cameo, on Night Crawling, feels like one of his crunchy 1980s hits — no bad thing.
In the three years since we last heard from her, Miley has been married to, and divorced from, actor Liam Hemsworth
The notion of Miley as a wild child who no longer believes in hearts-and-flowers romance resurfaces on Bad Karma. Joan Jett supplies vocals and California singer Ilsey Juber co-writes with Cyrus on a hypnotic tale of double-dealing. In keeping with her apprenticeship as Disney starlet Hannah Montana, though, there is something faintly cartoonish about Miley’s bad-girl act.
With collaborators aplenty — Ronson; crack U.S. team Monsters & Strangerz; Liam Gallagher’s producer Andrew Wyatt; the ubiquitous Ryan Tedder — Plastic Hearts sometimes feels like a headlong rush between rock, pop and dance. ‘Probably not gonna want to play me on your station,’ chides Miley on WTF Do I Know, but she’s wrong: these songs are tailor-made for radio and digital playlists, none more so than Prisoner, on which her southern twang blends neatly with Dua Lipa.
The most revealing moment arrives on Golden G String. A ballad set in Southern California and accompanied by keyboards, violin and cello, it raises the prospect of the former child star walking away from fame. But, as befits a showbiz trouper who can’t resist the lure of the greasepaint, she eventually concludes: ‘I think I’ll stay.’
The notion of Miley as a wild child who no longer believes in hearts-and-flowers romance resurfaces on Bad Karma. Pictured: Miley performs onstage during the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Festival
No surprises there. The bonus tracks are a mixed bag: there’s a remix of Midnight Sky with Stevie Nicks and a rasping cover of Heart Of Glass that has none of the airy insouciance Debbie Harry brought to the Blondie original. But The Cranberries’ Zombie, a bitter protest song penned by Dolores O’Riordan in response to an IRA bombing that killed two boys in Warrington in 1993, is compelling.
The last time Gary Barlow released a solo album — 2013’s folk-tinged Since I Saw You Last — he found himself competing with Robbie Williams’ jazzy Swings Both Ways. Now he’s taken a leaf out of his former Take That bandmate’s book and delivered his own big band collection. Music Played By Humans was finished a fortnight before Barlow, 49, spent the spring lockdown posting daily duets with Rick Astley, Beverley Knight and others on YouTube, but it has the same good-humoured, collaborative spirit as those Crooner Sessions.
Knight dazzles again alongside Barlow on Latin cha-cha Enough Is Enough, while he’s joined by Michael Bublé and Colombian singer Sebastián Yatra on Elita, the tale of a hot-stepping femme fatale who is the ‘number one señorita’. There are duets with Alesha Dixon and James Corden and some ear-catching solos.
The last time Gary Barlow (pictured) released a solo album — 2013’s folk-tinged Since I Saw You Last — he found himself competing with Robbie Williams’ jazzy Swings Both Ways. He has now released ‘Music Played by Humans’.
Barlow deserves credit for not recycling standards. All of these songs are well-crafted originals, the best being the astrological send-up Bad Libran — ‘once again I go to bed a Virgo’ — and lounge ballad This Is My Time.
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong should have spent 2020 on the road promoting his band’s latest album Father Of All. Instead, he’s been at home with his family in California, uploading impromptu covers onto Instagram. No Fun Mondays assembles them all on a 14-track album. A mixture of beefed-up punk and tuneful bubblegum pop, it’s hugely enjoyable.
He is joined by The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs on Manic Monday, and by sons Joey and Jakob on I Think We’re Alone Now, originally by Tommy James And The Shondells. He also covers obscure punk gems by The Starjets and The Avengers, and delivers rollicking power-pop takes on 1996 film theme That Thing You Do! and Kim Wilde’s Kids In America.
LANA’S GERSHWIN GIFT…
Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club album has now been delayed until March, but the American is on typically languid form on a new cover of George Gershwin’s Summertime (pictured)
Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club album has now been delayed until March, but the American is on typically languid form on a new cover of George Gershwin’s Summertime. The stand-alone single is in support of orchestras in New York and LA that have seen concerts cancelled.
James Taylor also revisits the Great American Songbook on a new EP lifted from the same sessions as this year’s American Standard album.
The mild man of rock’s soft baritone and distinctive guitar tone are prominent on a version of Over The Rainbow that retains the song’s often-overlooked introductory verse. With covers all the rage this week, singer James Blake teases his forthcoming EP with a haunting piano take on Ewan MacColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, a song made famous by Roberta Flack; while Nile Rodgers has re-recorded his guitar part on a cover of Chic’s Everybody Dance by producers Cedric Gervais and Franklin.
The week’s most notable new composition comes from Liam Gallagher: All You’re Dreaming Of, out today, is a seasonal tear-jerker with strings, a brass band, guitars, an emphatic lead vocal and a choir.
As the former Oasis firebrand puts it: ‘Bing Crosby would have been proud.’