Younger Now is a bit of a sly nod to a public who watched Miley Cyrus explore a defiantly loud post-adolescence: she may be older, but she’s not necessarily grown up. The joke is, Younger Now is most certainly an album that announces Miley’s mature phase, a record that shakes off the druggy haze of Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz — an album cut at the height of her infatuation with the Flaming Lips — yet retains the services of Oren Yoel, a producer/songwriter who collaborated with her on that 2015 digital-only effort. That’s the first sign that Younger Now may not be the back-to-the-roots move its retro-iconography and Dolly Parton duet may suggest. Certainly, there are country-ish songs scattered throughout the album — a hoedown and a waltz, but mostly ballads — but they’re delivered with an arched eyebrow, a distancing effect accentuated by how the album unfurls with a pair of songs where Cyrus brightens up the Californian melancholy of Lana Del Rey. Despite a showstopping performance or two, the kind of pyrotechnics that sound ripped from the heart, sadness isn’t Miley’s thing. Her specialty is good times, either raving until the early dawn or chilling out on the beach…or maybe whiling away the hours online. Without ever succumbing to the garish neon extremes of Bangerz or the hangover ache of Dead Petz, Younger Now touches upon each of these obsessions and then wraps them in a tidy package. Occasionally, this slick veneer can masquerade the Internet irony of an individual song — “Week Without You” plays like a Grease parody, the Dolly duet “Rainbowland” suggests a theme park of dancing GIFs — but the professionalism of both the production and the performance highlights Cyrus’ savvy skills. Younger Now reveals she’s as comfortable crafting a plaintive country ballad (“Miss You So Much”) as effervescent disco (“Thinkin'”), and the fact that these two seemingly disparate styles sit next to each other not altogether comfortably speaks to how Miley Cyrus’ aesthetic is thoroughly modern. She may not bother with EDM drops or murmured vocals — she’s justifiably proud of flaunting her voice — but she perceives no line dividing the past and the present, eagerly dressing up old-fashioned forms in newfangled sounds. If Younger Now seems slightly scattered as it flits from song to song, it nevertheless adds up to a portrait of a pop star so confident of her swagger, she doesn’t bother with such niceties as old-fashioned flow. She knows she’s got style for miles and miles, enough to keep her afloat when the time comes that she delivers her country tunes with acoustic guitars, not digital instruments, and she has the wisdom to know that snappy sheen is precisely what this particular album needs.
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