Armed with bucket loads of ‘swag’ and a production team the size of Mars, Justin Bieber has returned with the record engineered to take him from teddy bear to neo-Timberlake.
It’s a rumbling fault line between adult RnB star and teen sensation, but Bieber and his song-doctors have managed to twist together enough club beats and innocent lyrics to make the transition believable without it smacking of desperation.
Opener “All Around The World” bursts into the club with the help of Ludacris and some light house beats. The bigger club track emerges later on with “As Long As You Love Me”, which spins Justin’s feathery vocals above dubstep hooks.
Outside of the club, he can still hit the teen-pop nerve, tracks “Catching Feelings” and “Fall” deal with awkward teenage feelings of love within the friendship zone. Max Martin produced “Beauty And the Beat” sees Nicki Minaj rapping ‘Buns out wiener/ But I gotta keep an eye out on Selena’, over a Lady Gaga inspired breakdown.
The transition doesn’t always go smoothly though, especially where the lyrics are concerned. Single “Boyfriend” features lyrics about Buzz Lightyear and the lines ‘Swag, swag, swag on you/ Chillin’ by the fire why we eating fondue?’, whilst “Fall” throws up the cringe-worthy euphemism: ‘If you spread your wings/ You could fly away with me’.
Bieber’s syrupy vocals are so digitally altered as to be more android than auto-tune; the vocal acrobatics he exhibits on “Die In Your Arms” are especially grating. The backing gets the same treatment; funneled through layer upon layer of high production, it’s lost any connection with physical instruments.
Forever striving to be the new Michael, last track, “Maria” is Bieber’s “Billie Jean”, dealing with the real life paternity case that a crazed fan concocted a while back. Unashamedly ripping off the vocal line of MJ’s track, Justin sings ‘That ain’t my baby/ That ain’t my girl’ over Jackson 5 harmonies.
Wanting to convince us he’s all swag and no threat, Bieber’s latest effort ends up with all style and no substance.