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Music critic shares some highlights from Miley Cyrus' 'Endless Summer Vacation'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, Miley Cyrus has been in the public eye for nearly two decades. She skyrocketed to fame at 14, playing Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel. Since leaving the show in 2011, she's released eight albums. Her latest, "Endless Summer Vacation," features the smash hit "Flowers."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOWERS")

MILEY CYRUS: (Singing) I can buy myself flowers, write my name in the sand, talk to myself for hours, say things you don't understand. See things you don't understand.

MARTIN: "Flowers" was the No. 1 song in the world for six weeks, but The Guardian's acting deputy music director, Shaad D'Souza, was not impressed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOWERS")

CYRUS: (Singing) Can love me better. I can love me better, baby.

SHAAD D'SOUZA: "Flowers" I found a little underwhelming. But yeah, it is this gigantic hit, like her biggest hit ever, I think, and very comparable to her kind of 2013 heyday. But I did find it really interesting that, like, the final song on the record is a demo version of "Flowers."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOWERS (DEMO)")

CYRUS: (Singing) Paint my nails cherry red, match the roses that you left. No remorse. No regret. I forgive every word you said.

D'SOUZA: I was listening to it, and I was like, this makes this song sound really sad. And I liked that kind of almost like going back to it at the end and being like, whoa, like, maybe this song was actually super depressing. And I did quite like that duality.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU")

CYRUS: (Singing) Let's crash a wedding tonight, get drunk by the light. Then I'll pick a fight to make up on the floor of your room.

D'SOUZA: There's one really great ballad right in the middle called "You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU")

CYRUS: (Singing) Got some baggage. Let's do some damage. I am not made for no horse and carriage. You know I'm savage, but you're looking past it. I want that late-night sweet magic, that forever-lasting love but only if it's with you.

D'SOUZA: I think it's really, really strong. I think it's quite sad. Like, the whole album is very sad, which is something that I find quite appealing. And her voice is so ragged and I think really sells the emotion in it. And I think "You," which is kind of - it kind of has the rebelliousness of her earlier music, but in this weirdly mature way, which I think is a very compelling combination. It's got this kind of like, you know, '70s soul sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSE COLORED LENSES")

CYRUS: (Singing) We could stay like this forever, lost in wonderland with our head above the clouds, falling stupid like we're kids. Wearing rose-colored lenses. Let's just play pretend.

D'SOUZA: "Rose Colored Lenses" I really enjoy. It has this kind of lyrical and musical nod to "Total Control" by The Motels, but it's kind of like an inversion of that song's theme, looking back on a relationship and kind of wishing you could, you know, control someone else's feelings and that kind of thing. It's a very on-the-nose reference. Like, from first listen, it's very obvious that she was probably like, let's make it sound like the pre-chorus from "Total Control." But I quite like it. I think it's very charming.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLAND")

CYRUS: (Singing) I'm on an island, dirty dancing in the sun.

D'SOUZA: And then there's this song towards the end called "Island" that I think is really, again, very sad. Like, I think it's kind of presented as kind of like a more upbeat track. But then the hook is really crazy...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLAND")

CYRUS: (Singing) Am I stranded on an island? Or have I landed in paradise?

D'SOUZA: ...Which is dark and tonally weird. A lot of the album to me feels like it's, you know, all the kind of like more positive songs, very reflective. Like, I think you could read it as a breakup record, but almost like - from like a long time in the future or something. Like "Island," you know, it's this weird tonal mash of sad and nostalgic that I find super compelling and that you don't get a lot of in pop music, I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLAND")

CYRUS: (Singing) Mama told me, girl, smoke 'em if you got 'em. Left my lighter back at home with all my problems.

D'SOUZA: What's weird and what's interesting about Miley is that nothing she does is convincing, really, in kind of a good way. She's kind of almost like Madonna in that way, where it's like she makes things, you know, feel like a costume, which I think can be a really good and really interesting thing because she is almost someone whose celebrity has always been bigger than her music. I think it gives her license to do a lot of really different things. And so while I think the sound on "Endless Summer Vacation," which is this kind of mix of like country and like Fleetwood Mac-style rock and like a little bit of disco and that kind of thing, I think it works really well, but I don't think it's necessarily her sound. I think, you know, she's probably liable to change wildly to something else next record.

MARTIN: That was music critic Shaad D'Souza. "Endless Summer Vacation" is out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.