Wednesday 20 June 2012

Justin Bieber - Believe

Aww.  It looks like baby baby baby is all grown up.

As recent single Boyfriend proved, Bieber is maturing as an artist - or at least trying to.  The rap lyrics might be contrived ("chillin' by the fire while we're eating fondue"), but with his voice finally breaking he's sounding increasingly like a young Justin Timberlake.

Indeed, the two major reference points for 'Believe' seem to be Timberlake and Michael Jackson, which is no bad thing.  The sound may be typical RnB-pop, but it's all slickly produced - from the pounding drums of As Long As You Love Me to the dance-dubstep feel of Take You.  Remove the autotune and close your eyes and this could justifiably be Timberlake singing.  Jackson's influence certainly comes across in bonus track Maria in which Bieber addresses the pregnant fan fiasco.  It's a cross between Billie Jean and Dirty Diana, with Bieber's falsetto vocal singing "that ain't my baby, that ain't my girl".  It's juxtaposed ironically with She Don't Like The Lights, though as two of the best offerings, it's a curiosity why these bonus tracks are not on the album proper.

Of course, Bieber has a team of producers and collaborators who have steered the musical direction, not least of all mentor Usher whose influence drips from 'Believe'.  One Love could easily be a Chris Brown track - himself an Usher wannabe.  The most interesting collaboration, though, comes from Drake in the form of Right Here.  With Drake's position as one of the foremost up-and-coming RnB artists, his inclusion here is a smart move and Right Here sounds utterly contemporary.  The references extend to the lyrics too, with Beyonce ("you can be my Destiny's Child"), Timberlake ("baby, senorita") and Prince ("we gonna party like it's 3012 tonight") amongst others.

It's with the ballads that Jackson's influence is heightened and, equally, where the album falls down - the modern production collapses and the juvenile lyrics are laid bare.  The melismatic chorus melody of Die In Your Arms and the light motown feel are very early Jacko-esque.  Fall, however, is vomit-inducingly saccharine ("did you know you're an angel who forgot to fly?"), the sort of "emotional" number you'd find in High School Musical.  It's matched by the title track, all "where would I be if you didn't believe".  Eugh.  Still, there's got to be something for the tweens amongst Bieber's mature efforts.

The bad lyrics aren't limited to Bieber himself though.  Opener All Around The World features Ludacris and his incomprehensible "you're imperfectly perfect".  What?!  Nicki Minaj later features in Beauty And A Beat, but whilst her own material is far too explicit for Bieber's younger fans, she's more concerned with keeping her "eye out for Selena" after sighing "Justin Bieber" uncomfortably provocatively.

So 'Believe' has turned out to be quite the surprise.  It's by no means original, but by selecting some choice reference points and influences amongst all the soppiness, this sophomore album is a decent effort from the fledgling popstar.


Gizzle's Choice:

* As Long As You Love Me
* Right Here
* Maria

Listen: 'Believe' is available now.