Cyrus has never really made a great front-to-back album—2013’s Bangerz, weirdly, is probably most listenable the whole way through—and, with Endless Summer Vacation, “no skips” remains out of reach. A run of understated early tracks, largely produced by Harry’s House collaborators Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, is interrupted by the interminable Harmony Korine co-write “Handstand,” the kind of grooveless synth dirge that helped 2015’s Flaming Lips collaboration Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz sink like a stone. “Handstand” is built around a heavy-handed boat metaphor that never seems to go anywhere, and confoundingly introduces a character called Big Twitchy, a constant presence in Korine’s paintings. It feels as if, after exercising the kind of restraint that’s rare across her catalog, Cyrus finally let herself slip back into mindless excess.
Cyrus has said Endless Summer Vacation is loosely divided into “AM” and “PM” sections, and it’s the nighttime songs, roughly beginning with “Handstand,” that grate. “Wildcard” unsuccessfully retreads the “I’m damaged” regretfulness of “You” with less panache; “Muddy Feet,” a leaden collaboration with Sia, aims for tough talk and mostly lands at awkward. A decade on, Cyrus has still not found an appealing way to sing the word “I’ma,” and the song describes a cheating partner with a maddening combination of vagueness and ultra-specificity.
Indeed, a search for any of these songs brings up dozens of tabloid articles purporting to explain how they relate to Cyrus’ personal life. Thankfully, most of the album doesn’t fuel the impulse to speculate. On its best songs, such as the vampy and lascivious “River,” Cyrus effectively showcases who she is at this point in her career: Mature but still messy, not above a theatrical turn of phrase (“You’re pourin’ down, baby, drown me out”) and, very occasionally, still in tune with the big-hearted optimism that characterized her earlier music. “You could be the one, have the honor of my babies,” she sings. “Hope they have your eyes and that crooked smile.” Thrown into the middle of a horned-up dance jam, it comes as a surprise. A little like Endless Summer Vacation—which is not the sundazed party record that was promised but an exploration of how it feels when the party’s over.
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