Miley Cyrus’ new album, Endless Summer Vacation, is many things: a self-described love letter to the city of Los Angeles, a full day in two distinct halves (the track list is divided into “AM” and “PM” songs), a fresh start on the new label home of Columbia Records, and a commercial comeback thanks to lead single “Flowers” becoming Cyrus’ first Hot 100 chart-topper in nearly a decade.
Above all, however, Endless Summer Vacation is an apotheosis. After spending the decade following her Disney Channel rise by trying on different styles of popular music, from hip-hop to country-pop to guitar-rock, Cyrus positions her latest full-length as a culmination of her experiences and strengths, with a variety of sonic approaches folded into the mix. Cyrus, one of the more gifted pop artists of her generation, knows exactly who she is, and Endless Summer Vacation reckons with both where she’s been and where she might be headed next.
“Flowers” previewed the ‘70s haze of the album’s overarching pop-rock approach, but Endless Summer Vacation also includes nods to the psychedelica of the Dead Petz era, the sturdy rock of Plastic Hearts and the trap beats of Bangerz, as Cyrus revisits relationships that didn’t work out, peaceful blips that should have lasted longer, and personal truths that have led her to this moment as a fully self-assured 30-year-old. The themes are presented confidently, and the guest list is limited; Brandi Carlile and Sia appear on “Thousand Miles” and “Muddy Feet,” respectively, but their voices are mostly used to buttress Cyrus’ own, which has always been a remarkable instrument but has developed even greater nuance. She sings with purpose throughout the album, imbuing lines that could be delivered in any standard pop track with enough personality to convince the listener that, no, only Miley could sing this.
That’s always been Cyrus’ calling card — there’s no one else in pop music quite like her. And with Endless Summer Vacation, an irreplaceable talent pulls together all of the ideas she’s previously explored into a single, grand statement.
So which songs are the early standouts? Although all of Cyrus’ new album is worth exploring, here is a preliminary ranking of every song on Endless Summer Vacation.
The value in both versions of “Flowers” — the chart-topping original, and the stripped-down demo version — appearing on the Endless Summer Vacation track list lies in how the song’s message contorts: the hit version of “Flowers” conveys pop strength through self-care, but when accompanied by only a synthesizer here, Cyrus sounds like she’s trying to convince herself that no one can love her better than she can. Even if the demo take isn’t crucial, its fragility provides a stark, fascinating contrast.
“Muddy Feet” feat. Sia
Cyrus often sounds great while unfurling her rage in the vocal booth, and the highlight of “Muddy Feet” is that unbridled anger, with her growls and hoarse declarations directed toward the person constantly dragging dirt into her tidy life before a swelling outro featuring some choice Sia melismas. With its short running time and repeated phrases, “Muddy Feet” comes across as slightly incomplete compared to the rest of the Endless Summer Vacation tracks — but boy, is this one going to rip when Cyrus performs it live.
How you personally feel about Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz will likely serve as your litmus test for “Handstand,” a trippy synth fantasia that kicks off with a spoken-word psych-out that includes the line “My friend Big Twitchy rode the boat to the light,” before digging into a clipped, surprisingly catchy breakdown. Knowingly messy but captivating in its weirdness, “Handstand” could be misplaced in the heart of Endless Summer Vacation or exactly at home as the meltdown of the album’s Side A, depending on your vision of the track list; either way, points to Cyrus for never giving up her freak flag.
Consider “Wildcard” as the grown-up version of Cyrus’ “Can’t Be Tamed”: all these years after rejecting the various boxes that modern society and popular culture tried to place her in, she’s still never going to be defined — in this case, as her identity relates to domesticity (“Maybe I could stay and not break your heart / But don’t forget, baby, I’m a wildcard,” she warns). “Wildcard” functions as a late-album vocal showcase, the snares complementing Cyrus’ statements of self before ceding the floor to showy synths on the high-powered hook.
On an album full of compelling proclamations of who Cyrus is and what she wants, “Island” offers unexpected softness: sure, there are pangs of missing a significant other, but when a stranded Cyrus sings, “No one here needs nothin’ from me, and it’s kind of nice,” the listener can hear one of the more prolific pop artists of the past decade relax a little bit. The song’s breezy tone proves beguiling — credit to producer BJ Burton, who oversees a gorgeous mix — and Cyrus sparkles as its star.
“Rose Colored Lenses”
Credit to Cyrus for perfectly capturing the feeling of sprawling out and nestling into a comfortable setting on “Rose Colored Lenses” — “Let’s stay like this forever,” she breathes, as if hypnotizing her subject — as the production recalls the guitar-rock chug of her Plastic Hearts era before landing on a saxophone solo. “Rose Colored Lenses” contains the title Endless Summer Vacation in the second verse, and it makes sense: Cyrus is capturing a warm moment in time here, and pleading for it to stay eternal.
“Thousand Miles” feat. Brandi Carlile
At first glance, “Thousand Miles” resembles a straightforward country song — the first couplet includes the phrase “beat-up old Mercedes,” natch — with Brandi Carlile corralled in to deliver some yearning harmonies about nagging regrets and too-late calls. Yet a closer look reveals a shapeshifting sonic tapestry, with grand piano, harmonica, guitar and programmed drums pushing the song somewhere between Americana and synth-pop; whatever its genre classification, “Thousand Miles” recalls the twangy Cyrus masterclass “The Climb,” which is always a good thing.
The power of “Wonder Woman,” the tearjerking piano ballad that serves as the final non-demo song on the Endless Summer Vacation track list, lies in its universality: when Cyrus sings, “She’s a million moments / Lived a thousand lives / Never know she’s hopeless / Only when she cries,” she could be speaking as a pop star who’s had to charm the mainstream through several album eras, or as a woman being forced to bear too much in an imperfect society. “Wonder Woman” provides connection to those who seek it, and Cyrus sounds superb as the piano notes roll on, drawing out each line and extracting meaning from every moment.
Immediately following “Flowers” on the Endless Summer Vacation track list, “Jaded” again reflects on a breakup, but focuses on the impact it had on Cyrus’ ex instead of herself: “You’re lonely now, and I hate it,” she sings, convinced that breaking up was necessary but still swimming in lingering concern. As the only track here produced by Greg Kurstin, “Jaded” leans on the echoes of bending guitar lines to express melancholy, then balls up its resolve during a grand, affecting chorus.
There’s a reason why “River” is being positioned as Cyrus’ potential follow-up smash to “Flowers”: the single handles its synth-pop flourishes and sexual innuendoes with funk and personality, its melodies blasting out like laser beams and Cyrus opting for sashaying monotone on the verses to offset the “ooh-ooh-OOH!” maximalism of the chorus. The foundation of “River” recalls the shimmering pop-rock tone of “Flowers,” but the intricate production keeps pushing the tempo, yielding a dance track that’s going to pop up at a lot of parties this summer.
As “Flowers” has become Cyrus’ longest-running hit atop the Hot 100 in recent weeks, its appeal has only deepened — as if the major-key chorus and tabloid rumors launched the single as an early 2023 smash, but then the luxurious details, from the strings to post-chorus shuffle, helped the song sustain its run at No. 1. Yes, Cyrus has had flashier hits, but not too many as complete as this one, and the combination of stadium-sized melodies and polished subtleties makes “Flowers” sing.
“Violet Chemistry” boasts quite the studio pedigree — Cyrus worked with Mike WiLL Made-It, Sia, James Blake, Jesse Shatkin, Maxx Morando and Max Taylor-Sheppard on the track — and that cacophony of ideas was somehow streamlined into a sleek, singular wallop of a synth-pop song. Cyrus works wonders on the forget-about-tomorrow anthem, her voice commanding in some moments and pleading in others. The extended bridge, where the production simplifies to focus on the beats and bass as Cyrus turns sex into a Monet simile, makes “Violet Chemistry” both the longest song on Endless Summer Vacation and one of the best.
One achievement that Plastic Hearts subtly unlocked for Cyrus: if you looked beyond the more uptempo singles and toward searing tracks like “High” and “Angels Like You,” she had clearly mastered her brand of the pop ballad. One album later, “You” exists as a lovestruck waltz but abides by the same tenets of those tracks, sparkling with lyrical gems (“I wanna cut off my hair and kick off my boots / Dance in the wind just to do it again”) as it approaches its hook — an ode to embracing a flawed partner unconditionally — with tenacity and verve. Cyrus’ balladry bursts with her personality, which is why a song like “You” is so uniquely effective.