Welcome back to the ninth (wow!) installment of Spire’s Bops and Flops, the series where yours truly reviews the best and worst music of the month. I truly hope everyone is having a safe and festive holiday season so far. November’s bops include rock, rap, R&B/ soul and holiday music, so as usual, there’s something for everyone this month. Happy listening!
Plastic Hearts is modern rock ‘n’ roll excellence. In her long awaited seventh studio album, Miley Cyrus beautifully blends elements of classic rock with the boundary pushing pop sound she is usually associated with. And speaking of classic rock elements, Plastic Hearts includes big name features from Joan Jett, Billy Idol and Stevie Nicks. Dua Lipa, who is featured on Prisoner, and Cyrus herself are the only people on the album born after 1990.
Arguably the best part of Plastic Hearts is how unrestrained Cyrus’ voice sounds. Everyone knew Cyrus could sing, but I’m not so sure that many people knew she could sing so boldly. Cyrus’ recent live covers of Zombie by The Cranberries and Heart of Glass by Blondie were perfect singles to not only set the tone Plastic Hearts, but also to showcase Cyrus’ powerful new vocal style. Night Crawling (feat. Billy Idol), Plastic Hearts and WTF Do I Know are just three tracks from the 15 song album that especially highlight Cyrus’ vocal abilities.
Plastic Hearts is an album of personal autonomy, and it’s full of lyrics like “gimme what I want or I’ll give it to myself” on Gimme What I Want. A standout on the album is Bad Karma (feat. Joan Jett). The track’s sometimes restrained, sometimes powerful vocals over a strong bassline make Bad Karma sound effortlessly explosive and authentically rock ‘n’ roll. Not to mention, Joan Jett is the same woman who confidently sang “I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation”, so being able to keep up with both her vocals and presence is a feat in itself.
However, a critique of Plastic Hearts would be the disconnectedness of its thirteenth track, Edge of Midnight. The song is a mashup of Plastic Hearts’ hit single, Midnight Sky, and Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen. This was an extremely cool idea, but unfortunately, it fell short. The main problem lies in that it doesn’t sound like Nicks and Cyrus were in the same room recording the vocals for this song. In this day and age, very few artists collaborate on remixes in person, and sometimes it’s passable. But Plastic Hearts is an album that feels very alive and almost electric, so to have the track with the Stevie Nicks seem emotionally flat is a huge misstep on Cyrus’ part. With the exception of Edge of Midnight, every song with a featured artist sounds harmonious in the sense that both artists compliment both each other’s vocals and the tone of the song. If anything, fans of Cyrus can always expect the unexpected. She has experimented with everything from psychedelic party songs on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz to more mellow countryesque music on Younger Now. Despite many musical phases and changes in public persona, it doesn’t feel like Cyrus is putting on facades to sell music. Instead, it feels more like Cyrus is exploring a new facet of herself every time she releases a new project.
Megan Thee Stallion’s new album isn’t just Good News, it’s great news. Despite winning many awards, including being nominated for this year’s Grammys, Good News is Megan Thee Stallion’s first full-length studio album. The Houston, TX native is known for her unapologetic confidence, particularly in regards to female sexuality. In a society that tells young women to be sexually inoffensive, Megan Thee Stallion has become somewhat of a symbol for sexual freedom. Her irreverent and vulgar lyrics have empowered many young women to feel confident in their sexuality.
Good News features tracks that many people already know and love like Girls in the Hood and Savage Remix (feat. Beyonce). With “f*ck being good, I’m a bad b*tch, I’m sick of m*therf*ckers tryna tell me how to live” as an opening line, it’s absolutely unsurprising that Girls in the Hood became a celebrated single. Rather predictably, some of Good News’ tracks like Body have already gotten extremely popular, especially on platforms like Tik Tok.
Despite the aforementioned songs on Good News being so beloved, I would consider Circles to be the standout of the album. Lyrically, Circles is the epitome of a Megan Thee Stallion song. It’s raunchy and brazenly confident. Circles also has what is arguably the catchiest beat, and this is the song that immediately pulled me into the album.
The most unique song on is Intercourse (feat. Popcaan & Mustard) because of its reggaeton inspired sound. Popcaan is a Dj from Jamaica, and his carribean influence can be clearly felt in the sonics of Intercourse.
Bad news can feel almost constant these days, which is why Megan Thee Stallion chose to title her new album Good News. And while she did experiment with her sound on tracks like Intercouse and Don’t Rock Me To Sleep, this album is unmistakably Megan Thee Stallion. Because this is only the rapper’s first album, I cannot wait to see what the Hot Girl herself creates next.
Chill vibes meet powerful vocals in Jazmine Sullivan’s latest single. With scathing lyrics aimed at an ex, Pick Up Your Feelings is a song that exudes confidence and celebrates independence. The Hip-Hop/ R&B/ Soul singer is set to release a new full-length album this winter, and it will be Sullivan’s fourth studio album and first album since 2015.
Bleachers, which is the stage name of Jack Antonoff, is someone most people don’t know by name, but his music is beloved by many. Some of his most notable work includes co-writing and co-producing Taylor Swift’s 1989, Lover and folklore (stylized in all lowercase). Antonoff also co-wrote and produced Lorde’s Melodrama, he produced the Love, Simon soundtrack and he co-produced Lana Del Rey’s Norman F*cking Rockwell!. As if that isn’t impressive enough, Antonoff was also the guitarist and drummer for the band Fun (stylized fun.), which is the group responsible for smash hits like We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monáe) and Some Nights.
Bleachers is Antonoff’s solo project, and its purpose was to be an outlet to create songs inspired by John Hughes movies and the 80’s/ 90’s sound. WIthout a doubt, Chinatown captures this bittersweet and larger than life feeling. This single feels both timeless and effortless. Having Bruce Springsteen on the song significantly contributes to that aspect of the song as well. While Bleachers technically produces indie-pop, I can see Antonoff’s music in general appealing to fans of many different genres. Chinatown is Antonoff’s second single from his upcoming album which is set to be released sometime in 2021. This will be Bleachers’ fourth studio album and its first album since 2017.
Typically, I don’t review tracks from full albums in the singles section of Bops & Flops, but I’m making an exception for Christmas Blues. Like most people, I love Christmas. However, Christmas music can be hit or miss in my opinion. Christmas Blues, which is the third track on Sabrina Caludio’s same titled album, strikes a sweet spot between cheesy holiday music and typical R&B. The song, along with most of the album, is a slow, easy listen with a sexy vibe.
This song might’ve retained some kind of quality if it was only Shawn Mendes’ vocals. Monster sounds basic and predictable, but Justin Bieber just ruins it completely. If you’re a regular reader of Bops & Flops, you already know how I feel about Bieber. But for those of you who are new, I’ll reiterate what I’ve previously said. Bieber’s vocal style makes him sound like a wannabe hip-hop star, and his career peak, as of right now, was in 2015 with the release of his album Purpose.
As for Mendes, I would love it if he could switch things up and explore something other than the wholesome singer-songwriter persona that he so desperately clings to. If Mendes had put a little rasp in his voice and made the sonics more rock ‘n’ roll than hip-hop/ pop, he could’ve easily created a pop-rock song that would’ve gotten people talking. Lyrically, Monster had the makings of a quality song, but unfortunately Mendes and Bieber put their signature boringness into the final product.
Check out Spire Magazine’s November Bops Playlist.