Four years ago, a fresh faced kid from Canada began to burst upon the scene and slowly began to take the place of the Jonas Brothers at the top of tween music totem pole. Then just a little less than two years later, this kid became an instant superstar with arguably 2010's biggest single "Baby" and the rest is history.
History indeed. Now 18, Justin Bieber is already on his third album, titled "Believe" and like the album title, the Canadian pop superstar indeed wants to make everyone who is not a "Belieber" to start believing in him as he takes his next step to seeking music immortality. That meant changing his approach, the lyrics and everything else music critics and fans alike have associated with him for the previous four years. He ditches the bowling alley in "Baby" for the rooftops, cars and romancing beautiful girls in first released single "Boyfriend". He replaces simple melodies and lyrics for the edgy lyrics of a Mike Posner, even gets a little dubstep with Lindal and Darkchild and goes into smooth operator with his mentor's frequent collaborator Babyface and finally seals the deal with some big time guest help in fellow countryman Drake, hip-hop superstar Nicki Minaj and budding hip-hop act Big Sean. At the end of the day, Justin is 18 he is generally ready to bring it to the club and PAR-TAY alongside with a few surprises of his own.
And the party starts with the dance-club heavy "All Around The World" to prove immediately that he has grown up. The song is a bass-pounding, slightly Euroclub ode to love that oddly feels sort of like The Wanted's "Chasing The Sun" because like that song, you probably will feel like jumping to the refrain. "World" features the return of "Baby" wingman Ludacris and once again, Luda manages to STILL find a way to upstage Bieber with a pretty killer rhyme. So in a way, some things haven't totally changed for the Biebs after all.
Then Bieber takes the party to the top of the garage deck (if you have watched the music video) with "Boyfriend," which definitely makes a successful attempt at breaking the kid and turning him into a man as he coos sweet nothings in the beginnings of Verses 1 and 2 and promises to close the deal with sticking around forever. The tune is likely going to become the current generation's version of Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You".
While it's not breaking new ground as a whole, it's good enough for Bieber in the next track "As Long As You Love Me" as he attempts to show he's not some one or two trick pony in the production department as he delves into mainstream dubstep with the help of producers Darkchild and Lindal, both of whom are no strangers into the "It" genre in the last 18 months. Like the last two tracks, Bieber touches on the love aspect this time crooning that even if he's got no money and no home, as long as he has you, everything in the world is OK. Unfortunately, he again gets briefly upstaged by hip-hop upstart Big Sean in the middle of the track.
Three of the next four tracks likely fits much better with Justin's admittedly lacking vocals, especially in the area he wants to tread on where male powerhouses like fellow countrymen Michael Buble and Robin Thicke currently occupy. His predominately female fanbase should easily melt right into his vocals and him period in "Catching Feelings," which kind of comes off as a grown-up version of his first hit single "Baby" but he replaces the attempt at white boy hip-hop with a healthy helping of old-school R&B more remniscent of Michael Jackson and on some level early Usher.
The following track "Take You" by the standards we put him in would be considered a major let-down from the previous four tracks. The tune comes off as an unimpressive, standard-issue synth-heavy, dance-pop syncopated number. There are maybe a couple bright spots that makes the song passable, chiefly the breakdown part in "Take You". Outside of that, it's probably one of the weakest songs in the entire album.
The track then immediately segues into the rather trippy, drippy hip-hop/soul number "Right Here." That trippy drippiness is courtesy of the master of trippy and drippy himself, Drake in both production and lyrics as he drops a few lines and unlike "All Around The World" and "As Long as You Love Me," Drake and Justin complement each other surprisingly well and outside of the liberal application of autotune, the tune is easily one of the best tracks in the album.
With "Fall," once you get past the relatively weak beginnings of the first two verses, it crescendoes into a pretty decently built pop ballad although again, Bieber's vocals struggle to overcome the swelling string, guitar and timpani-led refrain. But the ending of the song could ultimately make you forget that struggle, well worth the listen to that part where he has that part of his vocals down pat.
"Die In Your Arms"
is definitely aimed right at the understandably skeptical crowd that is older than 22 and the likely eye-rolling parents of his rabid fanbase. He reaches all the way back into the time machine and evokes memories of the young Michael Jackson leading the Jackson 5 and throws in some Motown, Four Tops and Temptations-style. Have to say, this could likely be the best track on "Believe" hands down. Vocally, he executes the song in perfect storm fashion and the arrangement, while very much steeped in old school has enough modern rhythm to maintain a level of freshness in this piece. It is also very key to note the song is powered by a very small sample of a 1972 hit from Michael and we will let any one of you guess what it is!
Bieber yanks the listener back to the 21st century with the Diplo-produced "Thought Of You". And true to Diplo's M.O., "Thought of You" is a breezy, bouncy and airy affair accented by Bieber's so-so falsetto (he honestly does not have that totally developed) but ends in terribly abrupt fashion with a red alert that transitions into the anticipated "Beauty and a Beat."
"Beauty and a Beat" is the much talked about collab between the Canadian pop star and emerging and polarizing hip-hop princess Nicki Minaj and produced by prolific pop hitmaker Max Martin. And Martin has learned a couple new tricks he will be sure to overexpose with the trippy glossy effects amidst a growly bass beat. And finally don't miss Nicki's dropped bridge where she drops the name of a certain girl in Justin's life (very bold!), be sure to stick around for that!
"One Love" is a dance-beat driven pop ballad and evokes slight images of the OTHER Justin and a song called "Rock Your Body", same subject matter as Bieber sings about wanting nobody as long as he's "got your body baby." That's probably for now as provocative as he's going to get on "Believe" outside of "Boyfriend."
Bieber straps on an acoustic guitar for the heartfelt ballad "Be Alright," a virtual ode to his girl Selena Gomez and how much he misses her while traveling the world by himself (and his troupe). Love him or hate him, Bieber shows some surprising depth never shown before in this one!
The standard edition ends with the standard issue closer "Believe," the title track. It's a swelling and choir-infused inspirational piece sure to get you swaying and clapping.
The deluxe edition (which everyone should get!) contains 3 bonus tracks, the rather long-winded (for it's own good) and bass-heavy "Out of Town Girl," a subtle bite back to the paparazzi called "She Don't Like The Lights" and the track everyone wants to know about, the Billie Jean-themed "Maria."
"Maria" is his answer to the Mariah Yeater dust-up in which she accused Justin of fathering a child. The song begins with media snippets in which Bieber himself issued the denial and whips it way into a heavily auto-tuned dance club track in which he proceeds to do the obvious, bite back to Yeater in smackdown fashion. It is as venomous a song Justin has ever done and is as wild a change in tune and tone you will have ever seen from the normally positive singer..
Believe has enough shining moments to make even the most hardened non-Belieber believe that he is no longer that mop-haired, fresh faced 14 year old hitting on girls in a bowling alley and getting creepily sanctimonious on a song eventually remixed and made even more preachy with Rascal Flatts. But even as he convinces people that he is evolving as his age number keeps rising, he is also showing off the one weakness that could become a problem down the road as he ages and tries to climb up the ladders of music stardom and that is his voice. There are moments where he allows the arrangement to overwhelm his seemingly limited vocal range and in turn he begins to struggle to overcome it. It is also those limited vocals that gets him upstaged by Ludacris and Big Sean in the first and third tracks. Despite that glaring weakness, Believe will be absolutely loved by his current fans, but like Justin Timberlake 10 years ago, the album may have enough material to make new fans "Believe" in him now.