Miley Cyrus, "Plastic Hearts" (RCA)
The run-up to her seventh album built expectations that the former teen star with the powerhouse voice was ready to pull off a satisfying rock 'n' roll reinvention. Cyrus, who has always shown excellent taste in covers, 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 guests Joan Jett and Billy Idol.
Cyrus has spiky hair and wears leather gloves on the album cover, and the title "Plastic Hearts" evokes "Plastic Letters," the 1978 LP by Debbie Harry's band, suggesting Cyrus has made her Blondie album. If only.
"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," is fabulous.
But the album suffers from ordinary, by-committee songwriting, from the snarly opener "WTF Do I Know," by five writers, to "Prisoner," a duet with Dua Lipa that credits eight. And "Plastic Hearts" has production woes. Its hit-making pop producers create a facsimile of "rock," rather than letting 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." There's authenticity here to make you believe Cyrus has a great rock record in her, but this isn't it.
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Rudresh Mahanthappa, "Hero Trio" (Whirlwind)
The "hero" here is not the alto saxophonist but who he's saluting: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz and Ornette Coleman. Yet works associated with these players bear Mahanthappa's imprint, thanks to the ferocity of his tone and the speed and acuity of his technique. With bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Rudy Royston, he at once embraces and reimagines a mid-20th-century aesthetic on one of the best jazz albums of 2020.
Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
• Paul McCartney, "McCartney III"
• Tycho, "Weather Remixes"