Friday, December 4, 2015

Purpose | Justin Bieber

Welp, for better or for worse, the "Baby" Bieber is officially dead and gone -- his baby-makers have dropped and puberty hit the boy square between the eyes. Puberty has taken away a few of his high notes and the boyish tone that made him an overnight sensation, revealing a voice that really isn't that special. But with age comes more than just biological change, so in response, he and his army of collaborators (over three dozen sets of hands are credited on the standard edition of his new album) hone in on his most interesting sound to date on his fourth studio album, Purpose, to distract from his voice's new found lack of charm or distinction.

What started as an one-off collaboration with electronic dance giants Diplo and Skrillex (on summer smash "Where Are Ü Now," which finds its way onto the track listing of this album) spiraled into a large-scale experiment with the genre, abandoning the dime-a-dozen teen pop products of yesteryear. Skrillex and Blood Diamonds claim responsibility for roughly half of Purpose (surprisingly not "What Do You Mean" or "Company," though, which are par for the course here), using it as a digital sandbox to play as they see fit. As is the case with Madonna's Rebel Heart, club-geared tracks on this album feel like a joint showcase of Bieber and his producers, with a stronger focus on those sitting behind the soundboards -- except these tracks are noticeably more interesting than Madonna's collaborations with Diplo and Avicii (especially "Children," a hyperactive, late-night club anthem, and "I'll Show You," with its immersive waves of synths).

However, the entire record isn't Skrillex feat. Justin Bieber; there are plenty of tracks to counterbalance the EDM bangers, ranging from acoustic cuts ("Purpose," the absolutely laughable "Life is Worth Living") to fuzzy electro-R&B attempts ("No Pressure," "No Sense"). And of course, this record is the Biebs' first chance to add his two cents about his turbulent relationship with Selena Gomez (the other half of Jelena already told her side of the story with "The Heart Wants What It Wants" before undergoing a Revival this year), so there are few other stray bullets aimed at his ex besides the Skrillex-produced single "Sorry." "Love Yourself," a disconnected, guitar-led standout co-written by Ed Sheeran, seems to be a direct fire at her: "My mama don't like you, and she likes everybody." Well ouch. On the other hand, "The Feeling," which features Halsey and echoes the dingy alt-pop production style of her Badlands, is a bit more reserved, simply questioning, "Am I in love with you, or am I in love with the feeling? Trying to find the truth, but sometimes the heart is deceiving."

Purpose is easily Bieber's most accessible album for those of us outside of his target audience of loyal teen girls, but his back catalogue didn't really make that a challenging competition to win. The lyrics are still pretty dull, the voice doesn't leave a lasting impression whatsoever, the inauthentic "woe is me" mentality is draining and doesn't elicit any of the sympathy that it tries to, and the distracting production is the only element keeping this thing's pulse from dying away. Again, he put production responsibilities in good hands to distract from the insignificance of the other elements here -- that's definitely a commendable and wise choice.

Perhaps what is most shocking about this relatively average album, though, is how successful it has been -- spawning a handful of top ten singles, beating One Direction to the summit of the Billboard 200 with the second-highest album sales debut of 2015, dominating the current musical landscape -- even after all of his escapades: the neighborhood egging, the DUI and arrest, and his worst decision, the neck tattoo. Its success is most likely due not only to the botched attempts at an image revitalization (he's still throwing temper tantrums and cancelling appearance for no apparent reasons) and the pity parties on public display that people have somehow bought into, but also the fact that he has at least made an attempt to curate a somewhat interesting album.

Purpose is available now under Def Jam Records. Exclusive editions can be found at Walmart department stores.

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