Mi­ley Cyrus is no longer the wild naked girl on the wreck­ing ball

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - DAN DELUCA Philadel­phia In­quirer

The last time we en­coun­tered Mi­ley Cyrus, the pop provo­ca­teur was fly­ing high above the floor while us­ing a giant hot­dog as means of trans­porta­tion. Or maybe she was stark naked, swing­ing back and forth while lick­ing her chain on her “Wreck­ing Ball” video. Or she could have been waving a foam fin­ger while grind­ing her hips into the crotch of creepy Robin Thicke at the MTV VMAs. Or was that all just a dream? “Feels like I just woke up, like all this time I’ve been asleep,” the 24year-old show­biz vet sings at the start of the ti­tle cut and open­ing track of her new al­bum, “Younger Now.” “Even though it’s not who I am, I’m not afraid of who I used to be.”

It’s a pop star’s pre­rog­a­tive — if not a pre­req­ui­site of the job — to project a fresh im­age and a new nar­ra­tive from project to project.

With “Younger Now,” Cyrus is in the busi­ness of re­treat­ing to the in­no­cent Mi­ley of her Han­nah Mon­tana begin­nings, and ex­press­ing sec­ond thoughts about the but­ton­push­ing of her 2013 “Bangerz” and more truly out­landish 2015 col­lab­o­ra­tion with Wayne Coyne of the Flam­ing Lips, “Mi­ley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.”

In May, when rolling out the new, tamer Mi­ley on “Younger Now’s” lead sin­gle, “Mal­ibu,” she told in­ter­view­ers, “I’m al­ways go­ing to be the naked girl on the wreck­ing ball ... I should have thought about how long that was go­ing to fol­low me around,” and an­nounced she’s putting hip-hop be­hind her.

But once the ge­nie’s out, can you put bad girl Mi­ley back in the bot­tle? Af­ter tak­ing hip-hop to the bank (and be­ing ac­cused of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion) with the Mike WiLL Made-It-pro­duced ear­worm “We Can’t Stop,” are Cyrus fans go­ing to be sat­is­fied with tamer “Younger Now” bal­lads such as “Miss You So Much” and “She’s Not Him”?

That re­mains to be seen, but one thing is cer­tain: The “Younger Now” Cyrus is not as much fun as her ir­re­spon­si­ble, tongue-wag­ging pre­de­ces­sor. The new al­bum, pro­duced by Oren Yoel, makes a self­con­sciously grown-up move to re­con­nect with her main­stream pop roots, as well as her birthright as the first born of “Achy Breaky Heart” coun­try singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

“Younger Now” is by no means a coun­try record, how­ever. It’s more of a but­toned-up pop col­lec­tion that’s rarely thrilling.

Like Lady Gaga, Cyrus is a bold­faced pop star known for over-thetop show­man­ship and play­ing with sex­ual iden­tity who is also an old­school pro­fes­sional. In other words, she re­ally can sing, and she’s pretty good at writ­ing pop songs.

She does both of those things ef­fec­tively enough through­out Younger Now, whether lean­ing to­ward dance beats on “Thinkin’,” or rock­ing out on “Love Some­one.” But what’s dis­tress­ing about Younger Now is not that’s it bad, but some­thing worse for a used-to-be out­ra­geous pop star: It’s kind of bor­ing.

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