With Endless Summer Vacation, Miley Cyrus Glows on a Vocal-Forward Tour of the California Coast

The "love letter to LA" is a thoughtfully constructed and inviting new side to the star

miley cyrus endless summer vacation review album
Miley Cyrus, photo by Brianna Capozzi

    There are very few pop artists with the staying power of Miley Cyrus. Maybe it’s because we’ve had the opportunity to be reintroduced to her so many times. Over the past 17 years, since she burst into millions of homes as a young woman who just wanted the best of both worlds, we’ve gotten to know a rebel, a rock star, a pop queen, and a backyard, acoustic girl next door.

    With her new studio album Endless Summer Vacation (out today, March 10th), Cyrus has shared yet another side of herself. She’s 30 years old now, but she’s far from settled; the fire that has always burned in Miley that makes her so entrancing, alluring, and unpredictable is still going strong. And, if there’s one thematic takeaway from Endless Summer Vacation’s 13 tracks, it’s that she’s never going to allow anyone to dim that light.

    This era follows Cyrus’ Plastic Hearts, a 2020 rock-forward project that boasted collaborations with Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks. Cyrus describes Endless Summer Vacation, on the other hand, as her “love letter to LA,” and that vision is evident in every corner of the record. Listening through the album feels like living a few days in sunny SoCal with Miley: Waking up with “Flowers,” taking a top-down beachside drive accompanied by “Rose Colored Lenses,” falling in love under the moonlight with “You,” stumbling in and out of the club to “Handstand” and “River,” and then starting the process all over again with the latter half of the LP.


    It’s no secret that some of the album (the record-breaking “Flowers” in particular) was inspired by Cyrus’ divorce, but it doesn’t feel strictly like a breakup record. It feels richer and broader than that, a general story of reset and rediscovery that encourages the listener to indulge in their own whims. “I wanna cut off my hair and kick off my boots/ Dance in the wind just to do it again,” she sings on “You.”

    In some ways, Endless Summer Vacation recalls Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour; not in the themes, necessarily, seeing as Musgraves’ beloved LP was about reveling in a love that feels like it will never end, but in its genre-fluidity. The two albums also share a strong perspective and a trust in the central voice telling the story. Endless Summer Vacation, though, comes absolutely alive in the moments when Cyrus lets her trademark vocals fly, unleashing her full power on the listener. And, thankfully, that’s what happens throughout most of the album.

    The record is a reminder of that very vocal prowess that has carried Cyrus through so many aforementioned eras. The chorus of “Wildcard” is one standout, while the entirety of sex-powered waltz fantasy “You” is another. She leans furthest back into her Tennessee roots, appropriately, on her collaboration with the wonderful Brandi Carlile, a troubadour’s tale of acceptance titled “Thousand Miles.”


    In case anyone thought that this would be a largely country-rock record or a stripped-down California collection, though, there are plenty of tracks that quickly dispel those ideas. Miley goes full pop star on “River,” a club-ready bop that might not have felt out of place on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia or Lady Gaga’s Chromatica. Co-written by Cyrus (just like every other song on the LP) and produced by Hollywood hitmakers Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, “River” feels like the album’s disco-inspired centerpiece. It’s bookended by “Handstand,” a rumbling, pulsing interlude or sorts, and the playful “Violet Chemistry,” amounting to a transportive three-track run smack in the middle of the record.

    While Cyrus still shines on the chorus of “Muddy Feet,” Sia’s presence on the piano-driven song feels inconsequential. There’s also a loss of momentum towards the end of the record on “Island,” a sleepy, tropical daydream with lyrics that don’t grip the listener the way other parts of the album can. Things are re-centered by the finale ballad of “Wonder Woman,” and the choice to place a demo version of “Flowers” is fantastic; it feels like the credits are rolling on Endless Summer Vacation, the lights are coming back on, and Cyrus is ushering us out into a warm afternoon.

    For so many listeners, Miley Cyrus has felt like a friend that has walked alongside them through different chapters of life. She’s frank and sometimes messy in all the best ways; she’s a risk-taker and knows what she stands for. Most of us will never know what it’s like to live life so publicly, or to have to sort through the privacy of heartbreak on the world’s stage, and it’s not that she makes any of it look easy — it’s that she makes it look real.


    The current of honesty that runs through Endless Summer Vacation encourages the listener to press play on the record again, and the stories here get even better on a second or third listen. It’s cohesive without feeling repetitive. “Where I end up, I don’t really care/ I’m out of my mind but still I’m holding on,” she sings on “Thousand Miles.”

    That sort of plain-spoken storytelling might have made for a good record; Cyrus’ vocals take things further into the territory of greatness.