Miley Cyrus’ ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ Can’t Live Up To The Promise Of ‘Flowers’

Miley Cyrus, perhaps more than any of her peers, has an intriguing relationship with albums. Her career, from “Party In The U.S.A.” to “Wrecking Ball,” is largely defined by her singles. With each subsequent album serving as either an affirmation or rejection of the album that precedes it, Cyrus’s discography is littered with collections that contain the heights of 2010s pop music and some borderline unlistenable tracks. On Endless Summer Vacation, Cyrus is still striving to craft an undeniably consistent body of work. Funnily enough, the thing that stifles Cyrus’s latest set is the very thing that muddied her previous records; for the first time in her post-Bangerz career, Miley Cyrus plays it too safe.

When the Grammy-nominated icon unveiled “Flowers,” a blissful mélange of Gloria Gaynor’s disco-streaked perseverance and lyrical Easter eggs sourced from Bruno Mars’s “When I Was Your Man,” the song seemed to signal yet another new career peak for one of the most important pop stars of the 21st century. “Flowers,” which served as the lead and only pre-release single from Endless Summer Vacation, shattered Spotify records and clocked six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. Serving as her first full-length follow-up to her widely lauded Plastic Hearts and a years-long rebrand into a properly respected vocalist following a decade’s worth of drug-fueled foam finger controversies, Endless Summer Vacation wasn’t supposed to feel this flat. Cyrus’s eighth studio album answers the question: “What would a Miley Cyrus record sound like if she tempered all of the more daring and explorative elements of her artistry with the safe predictability and facelessness of adult contemporary?”

Loosely divided into two acts – an “AM” and “PM” side — Endless Summer Vacation finds most of its triumphs in the morning. After nearly two months, “Flowers” still holds up, and, more importantly, its breeziness provides both a baseline and a foil for the other soundscapes present on the album. “Jaded” arises as an instant standout, transforming the glam rock of Plastic Hearts into a pristine vocal performance set against an arrangement straight out of the late-aughts glory days of pop-rock.

While “Flowers” and “Jaded” both benefit from infectious, immersive production, their colorless lyrics are the earliest hints at where Endless Summer Vacation begins to falter. Most of the songwriting on Endless Summer Vacation is remarkably dull, if not frustratingly nondescript. “Rose Colored Lenses,” a Sgt. Peppers-informed psychedelic rock groove, loses its bite by way of lyrics that do nothing to transform the “rose colored glasses” adage beyond its most basic meaning. “We could stay like this forever, lost in wonderland / With our head above the clouds, falling stupid like we’re kids,” she sings. This unsavory combination — drab songwriting, intriguing production, and a reliably fantastic vocal — forms a left-of-holy trinity that reigns over Endless Summer Vacation.

Thankfully, the album’s sequencing never allows for a string of forgettable tracks to completely muddy the overall experience. In fact, the three songs that close the album’s AM side are among its best. The Brandi Carlile-featuring “Thousand Miles” is a heartfelt country-pop ballad that puts all of Younger Now to shame, from the gorgeous harmonica outro to Brandi’s ethereal upper harmonies in the song’s back half. And while the studio version of “You” will never match gut-wrenching wails of the live version — Cyrus first gifted us “You” on her 2022 live album Attention— it remains Miley’s strongest love-focused power ballad since “When I Look At You.”

Endless Summer Vacation begins to transition to its PM side with “Handstand”: a boundless, freewheeling song where, for the first time on the album, Miley doesn’t sound like a prisoner to restraint. Consisting of a spoken word poem, a chorus, and a bridge, “Handstand” expertly captures the feverish lust and sweaty stupor of a debaucherous summer night. Miley Cyrus is always at her best when she lets herself get a little weird. In the past, her primary obstacle has been getting too weird, but on Endless Summer Vacation she could do with a few more doses of the Dead Petz/Bangerz fusion that grounds “Handstand.” Perhaps the other songs on the PM side of Endless Summer Vacation struggle to match the allure of “Handstand” because they lean too heavily into the straightforward contemporary pop that looms over the album instead of seeking an anchor in the grimier edges of hip-hop, alternative pop, and psychedelic rock that ground Cyrus’s most intriguing musical offerings.

“River,” which is currently being primed to serve as the album’s second official single, has all the makings of a pop smash, but it still feels dull. The same is true for “Violet Chemistry,” “Wildcard,” and “Island.” All of these songs are fine, but boring metaphors and production that strips some of the character from Cyrus’s voice leave us with songs that aren’t necessarily lifeless, just limp. The synth-pop-meets-electro-rock haze of “River” is well-trodden sonic territory for Cyrus, yet an aimless chorus sours the whole affair. Tracks like “Violet Chemistry” and “Wildcard” present a Cyrus who has seemingly forgotten that the world has seen her at the zenith of pop culture’s obsession with the grotesque, taboo, and sexual. The grime of the Endless Summer Vacation’s PM songs sounds as if someone transposed the wilder moments of Cyrus’s mid-2010s career through a filter that left things palatable, but derivative. Between lyrics that sacrifice a solid sting for universality and production that revels in its tedium, the back half of Endless Summer Vacation unironically sounds like an inoffensive playlist blasting throughout an airport terminal. Nonetheless, there are some bright spots, like the spunky Sia-featuring “Muddy Feet,” that offset the absolute slog that is “Wonder Woman” — the album’s closing track which nods to Sarah McLauchlin’s “Angel” in all the worst ways.

The success of “Flowers,” along with Cyrus’s new muted online persona, pointed towards an album that would feel a bit more grand than Endless Summer Vacation. A perfectly fine record that ultimately suffers from how safe it is, Endless Summer Vacation is, at the very least, undeniable proof that Miley Cyrus is still capable of playing and thriving in the mainstream pop game. Hopefully, Cyrus’s next record will prove that she’s able to do all of this while making music that actually feels urgent and fresh.