The kids have done popcorn synths. They’ve done neon leg warmers, post-punk emo and slap bass. But if there’s one thing that’s lain mysteriously unmined by the open cast Eighties revival, it’s the Big Rasping Voice. Back in the day, women like Bonnie Tyler, Kim Carnes and Elkie Brooks gave it full throttle with deep, husky vocals blasted wide and tough as their hair. But never fear. Miley Cyrus’s sucker punch of a seventh album is here to correct the omission.
From start to finish, Plastic Hearts dresses catchy, Eighties-indebted pop melodies in rock’s studded leather, lets them spin a few wheelies and max out the speedo. It’s basically a truckload of fun with added blood and guts, driven by Cyrus’s reckless, open-throated, soul-bearing charisma.
If you’ve heard her recent covers of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” or Hall & Oates’ “Maneater”, then you’ll know exactly where this is pitched. The former Disney star is offering punk attitudes on the dancefloor. Funk delivered with a roar, not a pout. Notes delivered with maximum bawl and full extension.
This is a smart move that fills a gap in the market. Most pop lovers struggle to keep up with the vocal acrobatics favoured, of late, by the likes of Ariana Grande. But we can all pretend we’ve got lungs capable of shattering the shower cubicle when the volume is up and the neighbours are out.
Fans of the Cyrus soap opera will also be rewarded with relatable confessional material. She offers the obliquely inside track on her relationships, twerking, mental health and addictions.
She’s joined by heroes old and new on the record. Cool new pals like Dua Lipa are found album-partying with vintage rock favourites like Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks and FM-friendly peroxide snarler Billy Idol (whose old videos she apparently described as “porn” when she fell off the wagon during lockdown).
The chequered flag drops with a squelchy, rubber-burning bass turning over just as Cyrus lets rip with the unrepentant “WTF Do I Know”, before skidding into the title track. “Plastic Hearts” is the first of many tracks to nod heavily at her Eighties influences. The pulse is lifted straight from her beloved “Maneater” but also goes meta by referencing fellow Eighties-quoter Bruno Mars’s “Locked Out of Heaven”.
Elsewhere, pop pickers will spot her quoting from Prince, Fleetwood Mac and INXS and adding a sprinkling of Phil Collins-esque gated drums. I like to imagine that rather than Collins, Cyrus had the Cadbury Gorilla in the studio on “Gimme What I Want”: there’s a fluffy/muscly vibe there that the tax exile doesn’t really deserve. “Bad Karma” (feat Joan Jett) has a great “ah-uh” of a pulse that practically leans back on the jukebox with a fag on and eyeballs you. I melted into ballad “Never Be Me”, on which the troubled singer admits, “If you’re looking for stable, if you’re looking for faithful/ As hard as I try… that’ll never be me.”
Singles “Prisoner” (feat Dua Lipa) and “Midnight Sky” have a rebellious, freewheeling elasticity that makes them dancefloor killers. The chorus of the latter – “I was born to run, I don’t belong to anyone” – reminds me of the time I interviewed Cyrus’s godmother, Dolly Parton. Almost a decade ago, the queen of country pop assured me that her little protege (then in the twerking phase) would always “be connected to an earthy feeling and attitude. Be aware of the thrill of the fresh air in her face because it’s what she learned from her grandparents in Kentucky. Don’t underestimate Miley – she has the talent to outrun her critics.”
Not everything on the record is 100 per cent. She over-sings a cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie”. And the otherwise excellent “Golden G String” – in which she takes aim at Donald Trump – is ruined by her supposed nostalgia for the community-spirited vibe of “1969”. That was the year scandal-ridden Republican Richard Nixon took office. Really: I get that the year rhymed. But does nobody on her songwriting team have Google?
The rest of the song is great, though. I love how she owns her public personae over the years. “There are layers to this body/ Primal sex and primal shame/ They told me I should cover it/ So I went the other way/ I was tryin’ to own my power/ Still I'm tryin’ to work it out/ And at least it gives the paper somethin’ they can write about…”
Plastic Hearts is loaded with all the safely explosive thrills of Eighties telly. Listening, I felt the way I did as a kid, watching The A-Team busting out of a heavily guarded warehouse with a load of TNT and baddy-jeeps headed skyward, but miraculously incurring no casualties. The best of pop and rock combined. Hang on to your shower heads.