2017 MTV Video Music Awards - Rehearsals - DAY 1
Credit: John Shearer/Getty Images

“No one stays the same,” Miley Cyrus cautions on the contemplative title track from her sixth studio album, her voice lifted to an airy chorus of oh-whoahs. “Change is a thing you can count on.” Oh, the worldly, weary burden of being 24! Not that she’s wrong: For every season there is a Cyrus, and it turns, turns, turns — from her dizzy tween alter ego on Disney’s Hannah Montana more than a decade ago to the neon pop hedonist of 2013’s Bangerz and the loopy bohemian sprinkling body glitter all over her acid-hazed Dead Petz era. And now, on the cusp of another milestone — she’ll reach the quarter-century mark in November — comes her next metamorphosis: stripped down, analog, back to whatever basic means today to the girl born Destiny Hope in Franklin, Tennessee. On Younger Now she is fully her father Billy Ray’s daughter, leaning into the echoey twang of spaghetti-Western stomper “Bad Mood,” rhapsodizing about dirty feet and backyard creeks on “Inspired,” and duetting blithely with godmother Dolly Parton on the summer-­camp jamboree “Rainbowland.”

Lead single “Malibu,” at least, takes her squarely back to California — the off-duty superstar rediscovering the simpler, sandier things in a sun-dappled video that doubles as a dreamy advertorial for cream-­colored knitwear. Who is this beaming beach sprite in white eyelet? Whither the tongue-out vixen who gave us the VMAs twerk heard round the world and then tumbled down a psych-rock rabbit hole with the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne? Here, maximum naughtiness peaks at running down the list of things she’d do without a downer boyfriend (lay out with her girls! Wear jeans instead of a dress!) on the sock-hop slow waltz “Week Without You.”

There is some precedent for the new (old) Miley: In the limbo between Montana’s end and her next act, she began releasing a series of intimate lo-fi covers on YouTube dubbed “The Backyard Sessions.” Those recordings — faithful, playfully organic takes on songbook classics like “Jolene” and “Lilac Wine” — seemed to unlock the potential that always lurked in her precocious vocals, an oak-barrel-aged rasp far too interesting for most of the candy floss it had been yoked to before. Except that vintage material met her talents more than halfway; here the lyrics, attributed solely to Cyrus (with additional songwriting credits for Oren Yoel), land heavy on Instagram koans and “rough/tough/enough” rhyme schemes, unchallenged by featherweight melodies. They’re all too well built to fail — and sometimes the simplicity serves her beautifully, as on the crystalline ballad “She’s Not Him.” But without the mad spark of a collaborator like Coyne or Bangerz mastermind Mike WiLL Made-It, she’s just a girl gone mild: younger, wiser, and never quite as fun as the bad old days. B