Miley Cyrus, Endless Summer Vacation review: A lovely, long bask in the pop star’s maturing talent

Advance single ‘Flowers’ is Miley Cyrus’s longest-running UK No 1  (Sony Music)
Advance single ‘Flowers’ is Miley Cyrus’s longest-running UK No 1 (Sony Music)

“I’m on an island, dirty dancing in the sun,” sings Miley Cyrus on Endless Summer Vacation. The line perfectly captures the mood of a sensual but solitary eighth album served at an unexpectedly slow, controlled sizzle.

Released back in January, the only advance single – “Flowers” – was a poppy, post-break-up anthem. It saw the 30-year-old former child star strut confidently away from her marriage to Liam Hemsworth, proclaiming: “I can love me better than you can.” It sounded as though Cyrus might be sticking with the banging groove she established on 2020’s rock-indebted Plastic Hearts.

But anyone with an eye on the track’s producer, Kid Harpoon, may have caught a whiff of what was to come. The English producer slash songwriter born Thomas Hull (in Kent, 1982) won both a Grammy (for album of the year) and a Brit (for songwriter of the year) for his work on Harry Styles’s 2022 album Harry’s House. You can follow the vapour trail of that record’s heat-hazy synths, languorous hooks and sensuous, “Watermelon”-y wordplay into this new (largely Harpoon-produced) work from Cyrus. His shimmering backdrops lay like perfect, sandy beaches for her to stretch her powerful vocals out across.

True to her country roots, Cyrus has always been able to tell a good song-story. “You can say I am a twerking, pot-smoking, foulmouthed hillbilly,” she recently said in an interview, “but I am not a liar.” On this record, you believe her every word as she draws listeners deep into the tales of a woman relearning the single life. You can imagine her therapist high fiving her for “sitting with” her feelings. There is a cool sense of control to the way she does this. No longer a wrecking ball, Cyrus sounds like a woman doing emotional weightlifting. You can hear it on “Island” where she balances the pleasure of being alone (“no one needs nothin’ from me and it’s kinda nice”) with her loneliness (‘“cause boy, I’ve been missing you”). Against a faintly tropical beat, the chorus asks: “Am I stranded on an island/ Or have I landed in paradise?”

After the introductory fanfare of “Flowers”, she slows things right down with “Jaded” (produced by Greg Kurstin) on which she gives us the skinny on Hemsworth. He is vanishing off to bars until he’s “blurry”, leaving her worrying in the dark. The melody’s a little dull, but her roar-throated narrative pulls you through. “Rose Coloured Lenses” is a steadily throbbing warning against nostalgia for a lover who could “make a mess of a nice hotel”. Brandi Carlile pops in to add her twang to backing vocals on the mellow “Thousand Miles”.

Things really start to get interesting on “Handstand”, produced by Maxx Morando. The synths warp, wobble and squelch. Always a fan of the psychedelic (not every pop star collaborates with oddballs like the Flaming Lips, after all), Cyrus leads us into a trippy world of neon dinghies, comets, and manta rays. “Glowing creatures beamed down from great heights,” she recalls in a low drawl, “Electric eels in red venom”. Low in the mix, a jungle-y beat gives the track thrust as the singer assures us of her quiet strength, noting that all that she’s doing, she’s doing while standing on her hands. It’s a line that recalls the well-known quip that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire could do, backwards and in heels.

Cyrus switches the gear back up to chart pace for “River” – a straightforward romancer about a paramour who’s restored her faith after the love drought – but things get punchier on “Muddy Feet” (ft Sia). It’s a bluesy yowl set to a gravel-stomping beat on which Cyrus lets rip, ordering a man to “get the f*** out of my head/ bed”. This track is going to sound terrific live with just an acoustic strum.

But, as Endless Summer Vacation’s tide washes slowly from your headphones with the piano ballad “Wonder Woman”, you realise this isn’t really a festival record. It’s the sunbather’s choice. A lovely long bask in Cyrus’s maturing talent.