Album Review: Justin Bieber, ‘Believe’
Pity the poor teen idol. The double whammy of nature and ego demands that they grow. But they can only change so much, lest they leave a large, lucrative and very loud audience confused and vulnerable to the competition.
Justin Bieber faced a head-on collision with this dilemma on “Believe,” his third and latest CD. It arrives just two months after the Bieb celebrated his 18th birthday, a milestone which may not have brought him enough secondary sex characteristics to require a shaving kit but which, apparently, did funnel in just enough testosterone to lower his voice a smidge. The Bieber of “Believe” sings in a marginally deeper register than before, while the one we see on its cover sports a more business-like haircut than the sensation-making shag that graced his debut, “My World” just two years ago.
Of course, changes like those reflect the necessities of time and hormones. What about more controllable issues — matters as trifling as music or lyrics?
Let’s just say no parent or fan will be doing any double-takes from a single sound or lyric devised here. Not once does “Believe” waver from Bieber’s chaste and dreamy character. He’s still the smitten pursuer, promising undying love to anyone who’ll be his girl. It’s enough to make the Backstreet Boys seem like date rapists. While the music does integrate many more disruptive, post-dubstep stabs of synthesizer, they’re of a sort already chewed-on and digested by today’s dance-driven, Top 40 mainstream.
Most of the songs — catchy, in a generic way — hedge their bets by hinging on a trifecta of dance, RB and pop. Whatever divisions that canny mix doesn’t smooth over, the production does. If Bieber’s sound has always been robotic — to the point where it obscures the very fluidity and prettiness of the voice it means to enhance — this time his producers leaned even deeper into that fault. It sounds like they employed more machinery than it would take to launch a mission to the moon. Of course, this does serve to soften the blow of Bieber’s lowered voice. The extra blast of auto-tuning feminizes him and his doughy inflections soften things even more.
It’s all in keeping with the androgynous Bieber gestalt which, in turn, dovetails with an increasing feminization of pop in general — something evident ever since hip-hop shrank from the mainstream. The approach also connects Bieb to the obvious role model he has chosen for growing up: Michael Jackson. The new CD’s one great melody (in “Die in Your Arms”) recycles bits from a Jackson song of the ’70s (“We Got a Good Thing Going”). Likewise, the bonus track, “Maria,” borrows the concept of “Billie Jean,” even if it lacks as hot a tune. Jackson’s Peter Pan persona may make him an odd role model for maturing. But from the sound of this CD — and to the sure relief of Bieber’s money manager – it doesn’t sound as if he’s about to grow out of his dewy old role anytime soon.
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