Justin Bieber: Purpose review – a grown-up sorry. Sort of

(Def Jam)

Like Justin Timberlake before him, former teen star Justin Bieber is transitioning into manhood with the surgical aid of producers drawn from pop’s more nocturnal and urban realms. Nearly three years in the making, Purpose fully repositions the troubled child star as a breathy R&B loverman, his edge whetted further since Journals, his previous R&B-flavoured compilation offering (2013). One ear is cocked hard to the sophisticated confessionals of fellow Canadians Drake and the Weeknd, the other to the dancefloor.

Where Are Ü Now?

Where the renascent Timberlake was the plaything of the Neptunes andTimbaland a generation ago, Bieber 2.0 is the hand puppet of Skrillex and Diplo; Ed Sheeran, Benny Blanco, the odd Scandinavian and Journals producers the Audibles also play their parts. The lead-up to Purpose produced three unexpectedly great beats, for Where Are Ü Now, Sorry and What Do You Mean? respectively. Just as unexpectedly, there are even more where these came from.

Justin Bieber: No Sense

No Sense (ft Travis Scott) is all tinny trap skitter and multitracked, auto-tuned Biebers, pledging their preference for one special girl. The album’s most obvious pop moment, a song called The Feeling on which star-in-waiting Halsey sings the chorus, combines attention-deficit production, a rare major key chorus and emotional nuance. “Am I in love with you? Or am I in love with the feeling?” sing Bieber and Halsey, as though tiddly on a plane to Ibiza. The Ed Sheeran song, Love Yourself, strips everything back very effectively to a guitar line and a vocal, in which Bieber snittily dismisses an ex. “My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone,” he breathes before a little trumpet solo doubles as a rude gesture.

Justin Bieber: Sorry

It sounds just great, this late-night, soul-searching session in Bieber’s boudoir. If only the man himself were worth our ear time. What Do You Mean? is a song about a young guy’s huffy bewilderment at receiving mixed messages. And yet, Bieber mixes his own. From Sorry on in, Purpose sets out its stall as a giant apology – to his ex, Selena Gomez, and to his public, for various well-documented misdemeanours. Emotional intelligence is doled out by the ladleful. The title track thanks a lover for giving Bieber purpose. The howlingly terrible Children is Bieber’s misplaced Michael Jackson-style bid to hurt for the world over some generic Calvin Harris-style club beat.

Really, though, the tattooed Christian symbolism of the cover shot is a tip-off that, by the angel-themed Life Worth Living, Bieber will be coming out with passive-aggressive homilies such as: “Only God can judge me.” I’ll Show You pleads for clemency. “Don’t forget that I’m human, don’t forget that I’m real,” he mewls. By the end, he’s making no sense at all. The album ends with Bieber half-grovelling, half-defending his actions. “We weren’t necessarily put in the best position to make the best decisions,” he claims on the spoken coda. What does he mean?


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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