So it’s come to this. We’re reviewing a Justin Bieber album… might as well get on with it.
If you’re not quite sure who Justin Drew Bieber is, then you’re probably old enough to remember rationing. The Canadian pop prince has infiltrated pretty much every aspect of the media and pop culture, claiming a monopoly on Twitter trending topics, popping up on billions of TV shows, being a mainstay of online musical discussion and even getting his own film charting his rise to fame. He’s divisive as anything you could possibly name (although, it’s fair to say the majority of his supporters aren’t old enough to get into a cinema to see Prometheus), and he release of his second album proper is undoubtedly a big thing; we’re getting to see if it was merely the hormones of teenage girls prolonging his career to this point, or he’s actually got some staying power in the fickle world of pop.
The answer is, as long as he’s backed up by an armada of super-producers and songwriters, the Biebz is hanging around for some time to come. Believe is clearly an attempt at mirroring that other Justin’s move from passing fad teenybopper to fully-fledged grown-up music megastar, right down to the play on words of the album title (Justin, Justified/Believe, Beliebers etc); Timberlake had Timbaland, Pharrell and The Neptunes, Bieber has Ludacris, Hit-Boy (the man responsible for classics like "Niggas In Paris" and "Goldie"), The Messengers, Mike Posner and Diplo. On paper, such a starry cast (which gets even more stellar if you include the feature spots from Drake, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj) adds a whole chunk of crossover credibility to Bieber’s pop putsch, but when it comes to the execution, Believe ends up being insipid and beige.
There’s not a whole lot that grabs the attention throughout these thirteen tracks; even the standouts are more down to good production than Bieber’s own identity, voice or songwriting. "All Around The World" is near-identical to the LMFAO/Chris Brown-esque club-chart-pop bilge enveloping every radio station in the country right now, and if it was revealed "Fall" was a cover of an 80s stadium rock band, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid, it’s that teeth-grindingly sincere and po-faced; just swap the stock acoustic guitars for electric ones and you could be watching Rock Of Ages. The title track verges on nadir-level Michael Jackson, you know, when he got all righteous, drafted in choirs and started thinking everything he sang was a psalm…
Surprisingly, the tracks where big names are drafted in for cameos are the some of the weakest. "Right Here" just serves to diminish Drake’s hip-hop credibility even further, and even Hit-Boy’s beat can’t save it from middling mediocrity. Ludacris must be desparate for the cash or the exposure by appearing on “All Around The World”, and the same goes for Big Sean on "As Long As You Love Me", a song that includes some of the most insipd lyrics you’re likely to hear this year: "We’re under pressure/Seven billion people in the world trying to fit in/Keep it together/Smile on your face even though your heart is frowning" and "I’ll be your solider/Fighting every second of the day for your dreams, girl/I’ll be your Hova/You can be my Destiny’s Child on a scene, girl" being the two most ire-worthy. And remember when Nicki Minaj was briefly cool? Might as well erase those memories, since "Beauty And A Beat" is laughable, there’s no other way of describing it.
However, it may come as a surprise to the haters out there, that there are some solid-to-good songs here. The much-hyped "Boyfriend" is probably Bieber’s best track so far, with that irresistible beat (although the “rapping” in the verses is hilariously bad), whilst Diplo’s work on "Thought Of You" is top-drawer, creating a feel-good dance banger, for lack of a better description. "Be Alright" might resemble every participant at every open-mic acoustic night ever, as does "Catching Feelings", but they’re actually quite charming and leave the impression that a Biebz Goez Acouztic album might not be a bad thing. The soulful "Die In Your Arms" deserves a mention too, for having the balls to sample Michael Jackson’s “We’ve Got a Good Thing Going” and actually pulling it off.
So, on the back of Believe, it would appear Bieber doesn’t deserve a lot of the stick he gets, musically at least (he still seems like an arrogant, uppity, little arsewipe who you wouldn’t tire of kicking though). Of course, that should be evident to anyone who’s heard Heartbeeps magnificent cover of “Baby”; that song is a pop classic… just not when Bieber sings it. If you give him the right producers and songwriters, then the lad is going to come up with some rather good tunes in future (perhaps a possible Kanye collabortation on album #3?), but for now he might be best leaving it to Timberlake.