Justin Bieber's new album, "Believe," is only the third LP of
his career, shockingly, and that includes the Christmas album he
released last year - and we all know that Christmas albums don't
really count (though it must be said that Busta Rhymes was pretty
great on Bieber's rendition of "Little Drummer Boy").
Given that Bieber's been a mega-celebrity since whenever people
stopped caring about the Jonas Brothers, that isn't a lot of
material. I guess it shows that music itself is really incidental
to being a music star - Bieber could probably just release a new
haircut every year and remain in the spotlight.
Nevertheless, Island Records put out "Believe" on June 14, and I
suppose it'll be a big hit among middle-schoolers who somehow are
both rich enough and un-tech-savvy enough to purchase music. I gave
it a listen, and it contains a nice mixture of the sweet, slightly
Disneyfied blue-eyed soul with which young Bieber made his name,
and higher-tempo, aggressive numbers befitting the intimidating
5'7" adult man Bieber has recently become.
The album opens with an energetic "club banger" called "All Around
the World," which, like the opening track on Bieber's "My World
2.0," features the rapper Ludacris. Ludacris hasn't released a CD
of his own since 2010's "Battle of the Sexes," which I guess means
that he is now a 34-year-old guy who makes his living entirely by
playing sidekick to a lovestruck teenage boy.
The lead single, "Boyfriend," follows, and it's by far the worst
song on the album, although I should note that it's also the only
song on the album that's distinct from all the others, perhaps
because it's the only track on "Believe" produced by Mike Posner,
who somehow has become the "hot producer" of the moment even though
everything he does sounds like a cheesy, pre-JT Timbaland
Intended to be Bieber's all-grown-up moment (despite a random Buzz
Lightyear shout-out), "Boyfriend" turns its star into a creepy,
whispery, vaguely desperate lothario who promises to fly you across
the globe and feed you fondue: basically, Bieber becomes "The
Continental," that velvet robe-clad guy Christopher Walken used to
play on "SNL." The song's overbearing coolness includes a lot of
those high-pitched siren-whistles that I think briefly seemed like
a good idea to people during some forgettable hip-hop moment of the
Aughts. It invents an adjectival form of "swag," which officially
has jumped the shark.
Bieber keeps things moving, though, with "As Long As You Love Me,"
which begs the question whether he's paying homage to the
Backstreet Boys or just too young to remember them, and "Take You"
- the two are pretty much identical. "Right Here," co-starring
fellow Canadian teenybopper Drake, is probably the most monotonous
song I've heard in a year or so; the duo is in that "we have too
much swag to care" zone.
"Catching Feelings," sounding a lot like "The Girl Is Mine," begins
the softer, kinder side of the album, which includes a song
("Fall") supposedly inspired by the Nicholas Sparks movie "A Walk
to Remember" - apparently one of Bieber's favorites, which makes me
wonder why, exactly, his corporate overlords ever decided to force
the whole street-smart, hip-hop, white-Usher persona on him. "Die
in Your Arms" is his most soulful moment, and "Thought of You"
probably his nicest pop song, although (despite the absence of any
co-star credit) I'm pretty sure that's not Bieber singing on the
Nicki Minaj makes her requisite appearance on "Beauty and a Beat,"
bringing a little bit of humor to the album before Bieber closes it
out with a barrage of heartfeltness on "One Love," "Be Alright"
(sic), and "Believe." The "deluxe edition" of the CD appends a trio
of truculently banal dance songs, including a "Billie Jean"-esque
diss track dedicated to Justin's would-be baby mama, Mariah
Aside from "Boyfriend," there's nothing really wrong with Bieber's
third album, except that it's pablum, which is enough to get some
people riled up. His post-pubescent falsetto, still slightly
childish but occasionally approaching adulthood, sounds OK - his
voice was never really that great. He probably could have used at
least one insanely catchy single à la Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me
Maybe" (the true pinnacle of Canadian tween pop), but maybe
Bieber's really more about forgettable singles and memorable
hairdos, which is fine, too.
He's never had a #1 hit in the United States, and really his fans
are more into Bieber as a personality than Bieber as a musician,
which is a little weird when you think about it, because he doesn't
really have much of an apparent personality. His music, though
sentimental, is totally impersonal: he passionately sings lines
like "As long as you love me, we could be starving, we could be
homeless, we could be broke" even though he's been a millionaire
since before he had to shave.
Why do people buy his CDs? I don't really know. Why do people buy
any important entertainment product? At the center, there's never
much there. In the future, music superstars won't have to release
any work at all, and we'll be allowed to enjoy their celebrity
without having to listen to them sing.