Reviews: Miley Cyrus, AC/DC, Eels and an ‘essential’ Joni Mitchell box set

Plastic Hearts

Miley Cyrus

RCA Records

While she’s very much a product of the American Industrial Entertainment Complex, there’s something positively Eastern Hemisphere about the post-Mickey/Montana career of Miley Cyrus. The Euros, the Aussies, the Kiwis, the J-Poppers — she’s more them than us.

For, yes, while she has that mouth and that yankee-doodle f-u-itude — one that only comes when you both know that you’re set for life and, to give her some much-deserved credit, know who you are, or, don’t give two shits about who people think you are — Ms. Cyrus still leans more towards the entertainer, and interpreter who those off the continent gravitate towards. 

Her superb latest collection of pop-rock confection, Plastic Hearts, plays like a Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, solo Spice album, one that is as retro — think prime Olivia Newton-John or Sheena Easton — as it is steeped in the today. While not entirely about the single, it’s still a well curated through-line of disparate tunes that pulls from the sonics of other chart-toppers and originals such as Madonna, T’Pau, Diamond Rings, Fleetwood Mac, ABBA, Kirsty MacColl, Pat Benatar, and the Dixie Chicks.

But, despite the smartly scattershot musical approach, what still makes it work is her voice — literally and figuratively. That strong, empowered voice that is as confident as the witchy woman, Stevie Nicks, and malleable enough to pull off pop, punk, rock, Laurel Canyon country, new Nashville, southern soul, and tunes made for everyone from Debbie Harry to Dolores O’Riordan. And Cyrus, as an artist and woman with a voice, always, in every song, reminds you that it’s her. Sexy, confident, self-aware and living her best life, which we’re all welcome to.

She’s there: Miley’s an interpreter and an artist, with a western esthetic and and eastern approach, perhaps philosophy.

Somewhere in the middle we shall meet.

— Mike Bell

Archives — Volume 1, The Early Years (1963-1967)

Joni Mitchell


Fandom demands a backstory — how else do you explain Baby Yoda, for chissakes? Archives, on the other hand, offers a backstory worth telling: the five years before Joni Mitchell released her 1968 debut, Song to a Seagull. 

Chronologically arranged, this five-CD set starts in 1963 when 19-year-old Joni Anderson — with her acoustic guitar and clear, piercing voice — records a set of folk standards at a Saskatoon radio station, then follows her a year later to the Half Beat coffeehouse in Yorkville, where she remains in earnest folksinger mode. It’s astounding to consider this young woman would make The Hissing of Summer Lawns just 11 years later. 

Mitchell the songwriter arrives on Disc 2, which starts with a three-song tape recorded for her mother’s 53rd birthday. “I’ve written a couple new songs … and I think you’ll like this one especially, mom,” Mitchell says of Urge for Going — and suddenly her creative voice emerges and sustains throughout this collection, comprised of home, demo and live recordings (much of it previously bootlegged but rarely in this fidelity). The set offers more than 20 Mitchell originals she has never formally released until now; other songs would appear on her first four records. 

Archives culminates in a complete 1967 performance, Live at Canterbury House, the jewel in this box. More confident than ever, with a clutch of songs that would become classics, Mitchell opens the second of three sets with Little Green, a song about giving up a daughter for adoption two years prior. Her performance is riveting, as she bares this most painful and personal secret before an audience oblivious to the song’s meaning. Yet there are also many moments of sweetness and humour, especially in the song introductions, and an entertaining contemporary interview by Cameron Crowe in the accompanying booklet. 

For Joni, there’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams post-‘67, but these early recordings nevertheless represent an essential chapter in her remarkable canon.

— David Veitch

Power Up



Once you’re a cartoon character, a caricature of your original intent, congratulations because a) you’ve officially made it; and b) it doesn’t matter what you do any more.

You’ve been rendered one less dimensional, with all of the inherent rewards that come with that, and all of the dismissal as well.

Musically and arguably, AC/DC hit that mark 40 years ago when they released the ubiquitous classic arena rock record Back in Black. That was the blueprint, or the storyboard, for the next four decades of the Aussie boys’ rockjectory – for better, artistically, or worse. 

But interestingly, the past few years have added a little extra depth to AC/DC’s story, which makes the appearance of a new record, let alone a non-dismissively good album – their seventeenth studio effort Power Up (or PWR/UP) – that much more notable.

Recorded with a lineup sans co-founder Malcolm Young, who passed away in 2017, the album is a tribute to the rhythm guitarist according to brother and fellow axesmith Angus, but not one that is held back by what they’re missing without him or mired in some kind of existential dilemma by his absence. 

It’s unapologetically, almost belligerently, ’DC, with enough melody bubblin’ ‘neath the surface, and power from rejuvenated and reclaimed croakalist Brian Johnson – left for deaf, but thankfully, medically brought back over the past few years – to make it seem much, much fresher than Foghat.

No, its not as urgent or dirty as they were pre-toon, pre-Johnson, mainly because they’re still following the same footprints, and time and age have made them understandably more measured and more reserved (i.e. weary) metalmen. And, of course not; of course the record or any of the songs or numerous rock radio singles won’t change any minds about the band, nor likely turn on any new heads, save for one or two tots in the back of a minivan. 

But were that the case, it’d be an entry into the cartoon world of AC/DC and, hopefully, a gateway to their excellent origin stories from more than 40 years ago.

— Mike Bell

Earth to Dora


Pias America

Heartbreak is the vein mineable only by the teens, tweens, Swifts and assorted. The young. Or so we’re told.

Fuck the olds, who have actually experienced HEARTBREAK, heartbreak, Heartbreak, heart break, #hurtbreak and, meh, heartbreak over their many years on this broken planet.

When it’s young, it’s fresh, it’s new, it’s marketable.

Refreshing, then, that American alt-rock act Eels’ superlative latest actually exists. Earth to Dora plays like an aging slacker hipster breakup album, an almost-concept record about the end of something, when it possibly might actually mean and feel like so much more.

Alternately resplendently in love, glum, despondent and moribund, the entire proceeding is a marvelous mash of singalongable pop that, at its best, reminds of Wilco at their most embraceable and Fountains of Wayne at their most sedated and Lou Reed at his most suburban. And frontman Mark Everett (a.k.a. E) has the uncanny knack of being able to make you nostalgically feel like you’re at a relationship’s end, wrapping it in the power-pop dressing that makes a song like Are You Fucking Your Ex one of the saddest, catchiest and tastiest queries you’re likely to hear this year.

Old-school heartbreak in the dad-rock vein.

Fuck the youngs.

Mike Bell