(RCA ** 1/2)
The run-up to Miley Cyrus’ seventh album built up expectations that the former teen star with the powerhouse voice was ready to pull off a satisfying rock-and-roll reinvention.
Cyrus, who has always shown excellent taste in covers — from her 2014 MTV performance of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to Irma Thomas’ “Ruler of My Heart” on the Bangerz tour — has been making rock moves this year, sharing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” And Plastic Hearts includes guest appearances by Joan Jett and Billy Idol.
She’s got spiky hair and wears leather gloves on the album cover (shot by legendary photographer Mick Rock), and the title Plastic Hearts evokes Plastic Letters, the 1978 album by Debbie Harry’s band, suggesting Cyrus has made her Blondie album.
Plastic Hearts does confirm what a terrific, raspy-voiced rock singer Cyrus is, growling with Idol on “Night Crawling.” And “Midnight Sky,” which samples Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” (and features Nicks in a remixed version), is fabulous.
But the album suffers from ordinary, by-committee songwriting, from the snarly opener “WTF Do I Know,” composed by five writers, to “Prisoner” a duet with Dua Lipa, which credits eight. And Plastic Hearts has production woes. Its hit-making pop producers create a facsimile of “rock,” rather than let a live band cut loose.
The charismatic Cyrus still manages to come across as human, whether teaming up with Jett on “Bad Karma” or being frank about past controversy-courting on “Golden G-String.” “I was trying to own my own power,” she sings. “Still, I’m trying to work it out / At least it gives the papers something to write about.”
There’s authenticity there to make you believe Cyrus has a great rock record in her, but this isn’t it.
— Dan DeLuca
You don’t come to a new AC/DC album expecting innovation, evolution, or wisdom. But you don’t want blatant retreads of past glories, either. Fortunately, Power Up, the band’s 17th studio album, delivers what matters: defiant anthems built on loud, undeniable guitar riffs and shout-along choruses.
These men, who are all in their 60s and 70s, still sound fueled by teenage testosterone — and guitarist Angus Young is still wearing his schoolboy uniform.
AC/DC had fallen apart after their last album, 2016′s Rock or Bust, with only Young and his nephew and fellow guitarist Stevie Young remaining. (Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose filled in on some tour dates when vocalist Brian Johnson left with hearing-loss problems).
But Johnson, drummer Phil Rudd, and bassist Cliff Williams are back for Power Up, and the band sounds happily energized on songs such as “Shot in the Dark” and “Money Shot.”
It’s no surprise Power Up sounds like vintage AC/DC: Most of the songs were written by Angus and his brother Malcolm in 2008, when the band released the highly regarded Black Ice.
Angus has called Power Up a tribute to Malcolm, who retired in 2014 and died in 2017, although there’s nothing sentimental about songs such as “Demon Fire,” “Kick You When You’re Down,” or even “Through the Mists of Time.”
Power Up sounds exactly like an AC/DC album should, and that’s high praise.
— Steve Klinge
From an Old Guitar
(Yep Roc ***)
Dave Alvin established himself as a brilliantly concise songwriter in the ’80s, when he championed “American music” as the guitar-slinger with the great, roots-rocking Blasters. But since 2011′s Eleven Eleven, he hasn’t written much, focusing instead on non-originals in collaborations with artists such as his brother and Blasters mate Phil Alvin, along with Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
From an Old Guitar collects 16 stray tracks from Alvin’s solo career, and, again, most are by other writers. But the performances highlight his skills as an interpreter and the expressiveness of his smoke-cured baritone, which has grown considerably since he made the move from silent six-stringer to front man.
Backed mostly by members of his various bands over the years, Alvin touches on blues, country, rock-and-roll, and jazz as he takes on numbers by contemporaries (Chris Smither’s “Link of Chain,” Peter Case’s “On the Way Downtown”) and elders (Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” Marty Robbins’ “Many Walks Among Us”). He goes way back with Lil Armstrong’s “Perdido Street Blues” and Bo Carter’s “Who’s Been Here,” a raucous duet with Christy McWilson.
A particular delight is the tempo-shifting instrumental “Variations on Earl Hooker’s Guitar Rhumba.”
“Beautiful City ‘Cross the River” and “Signal Hill Blues” are tough, blues-drenched originals that remind you how good a storyteller Alvin is and make you wish he would get back to writing more.
— Nick Cristiano