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Miley Cyrus Declares Her Independence

July 22, 2008

By Joey Guerra, Houston Chronicle

Jul. 22–Breakout is being billed as Miley Cyrus’ big-girl record, her declaration of teen independence.

Earlier this year, Cyrus described the disc as a “techno-rock” blend of the Killers and Melissa Etheridge-inspired vocals. That’s a long way from blonde wigs and girl-power sentiments.

She captures some of that vibe on Breakout, available online and in stores today. But mostly the disc plays like a natural progression from 2007′s relentlessly hooky Meet Miley Cyrus, which shared space with a Hannah Montana soundtrack.

No sitcom splits this time. At its frequent best, Breakout captures the teen spirit of Hilary Duff’s best pop tunes or a post-Idol, pre-Breakaway Kelly Clarkson. It’s also a better representation of her flirty live performances.

“Tired of being told what to do/So unfair, so uncool,” she carps during the guitar-and-drum-fueled title track, an energetic ode to hanging out with friends, dancing and breaking hearts.

But don’t worry, parents: Cyrus — despite the racy photos and lack of big-screen seatbelts — isn’t making a premature jump into musical adulthood. (“We’re gonna dance ’til the dance floor falls apart!” she promises later in the song.)

She’s just, to quote a recent radio hit, “being Mi-ley.”

The good news is that Cyrus, still just 15, has toned down the earnestness and is settling into her own voice, which can go to some interesting places.

She has a raspy edge that dirties up some of the teen-pop sheen. It makes Breakout a more focused effort than … Baby One More Time, an inconsistent coming-out effort from Britney Spears, Cyrus’ teen-queen predecessor. (Yeah, I said it.)

Despite all the glitter — and clubby hit See You Again, featured here in a new remix — Cyrus is a rocker chic(let) at heart.

The pop-punk snap of first single 7 Things, the disc’s most aggressive tune, fits her like a fingerless glove. It switches cleverly from gently strumming verses to fist-pumping choruses. (P.S.: Fans are buzzing that the tune is, like, totally about Nick Jonas.)

These Four Walls, co-written and originally recorded by MTV reality star Cheyenne Kimball, finds Cyrus pushing toward, and hitting, bigger power notes. All that touring has likely helped. The Driveway and Full Circle are like less grating Avril Lavigne tunes, and Simple Song is anchored by a Beatles-esque arrangement and a sing-along chorus of la-la-las.

Less successful is Cyrus’ take on ’80s anthem Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. It should have been an easy fit. But the tempo is notched up almost twice as fast as the original, and it’s framed by an odd, clunky arrangement that saps the song of its freewheeling spirit.

Things slow down a bit during the weepy, dramatic Goodbye and Bottom of the Ocean, a gurgling, mature ballad with soulful backing vocals that’s as interesting as anything on recent records from Rihanna or Leona Lewis.

The only cringe-inducing moment, Wake Up America, is an eco-conscious tune best left to a very-special episode of Hannah Montana. “I know that you don’t wanna hear it/Especially coming from someone so young,” she sings. She’s right.

Cyrus is much more convincing during Fly On the Wall, a blast of fuzzy guitars and blocky beats reminiscent of Toxic, Spears’ best tune.

“You’d love to know/The things I do,” Cyrus coos via alternately teasing and full-throttle vocals. “Come a little closer.”

Hannah Montana may soon be a thing of her past, but Cyrus, it seems, should be just fine on her own.

joey.guerra@chron.com

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