Review: Justin Bieber, ‘Journals’


Justin Bieber, Journals © Island
Journals steps in the right direction stylistically, isn’t without flaws. 
Justin Bieber • Journals • Island • US Release Date: December 23, 2013

For a brief time via iTunes (beginning December 23), Justin Bieber has compiled his Music Mondays releases into one digital album, Journals.  Over the past two months, I’ve reviewed the previously issued singles from Journals and have added the newly added five to the arsenal.  Overall, I’ve found Journals as an album to be a mixed bag.  There are some surprisingly bright spots, but there are also some equally unimpressive ones.  Here’s a song-by-song examination of Bieber’s Journals… barf – err… yeah. 

Here goes nothing…

Justin Bieber performs live in concert as part of his 'Believe Tour' at the Jos Miguel Agrelot Coliseum Carolina 10/20/2013 © WENN
Justin Bieber performs live in concert as part of his ‘Believe Tour’ at the Jos Miguel Agrelot Coliseum Carolina 10/20/2013 © WENN

1) “Heartbreaker”

Slow jam “Heartbreaker” definitely seems like another step towards a more mature sound, regardless of what one opines of the single.  The production and vibe are among the strongest points.  Additionally, the use of backing vocals and vocal dubs throughout accentuate the cut, so props there.  The chorus is simple, but effective ultimately: “Don’t tell me you’re my heartbreaker / hey girl my heart is breakin’…” Among cons, while Bieber’s vocals are maturing, he completely there yet. The grinding tempo does show his potential, but also exposes flaws. Ultimately, “Heartbreaker” isn’t innovative, but shows potential.

2) “All That Matters”

If “Heartbreaker” wasn’t evidence enough, it’s clear that Justin Bieber wants to be a contemporary R&B artist. “All That Matters” is much more urban-leaning compared to JB’s previous work.  Positively, I like the sound and vibe of this cut, perhaps even more than “Heartbreaker”. That said, this cut could use some a bit more variation to keep it interesting; it feels a bit too comfortable.  The hip-hop cues are there vocally for the Biebz  (rhythmic vocals), but it trends too similarly to “Heartbreaker”. Bieber sounds much better rounded vocally compared to “Heartbreaker”.  Ultimately, it’s pleasant.

3)  “Hold Tight”

“Hold Tight” is less satisfying than the opening duo.  While the slick urban production and vocal ad-libs/runs appeal, the cut kind of sits, coming over as static.  Sure, the sound has a Drake quality going for it, but at this point, Bieber needs something truly different and quicker in pace.  This cut just drags on too long; NOT feelin’ this one as much JB. 

4) “Recovery”

“Recovery” serves as atonement for the lackluster “Hold Tight”.  “Recovery” may be the most interesting of the opening quartet, keeping in line with adult contemporary R&B sensibilities.  Bieber continues to sound more ‘mature’ vocally. Despite deserved praise and strides in artistic maturity, “Recovery” may still be a bit too slow ultimately despite having a solid groove anchoring it.

5) “Bad Day”

“Bad Day”, like the opening quartet, has its pros and cons.  Overall, the pros do outweigh the cons. The contemporary R&B styling suits Bieber appealing more than say “Beauty and a Beat” did.  Vocally, his vocal runs have progressed, and contextually speaking, he appears to be singing from the heart.

Justin Bieber performs live in concert as part of his 'Believe Tour' at the Jos Miguel Agrelot Coliseum Carolina 10/20/2013 © WENN
Justin Bieber performs live in concert as part of his ‘Believe Tour’ at the Jos Miguel Agrelot Coliseum Carolina 10/20/2013 © WENN

 

The cons include continual vocal development, despite expanding his bag of tricks. His falsetto comes off on the thin side, particularly towards the end where hitting a ‘home run’ should be the desired product.  Lyrically, the songwriting could also stand a facelift. At two-and-a-half minutes, “Bad Day” is a bit brief, but not a total deal breaker.

6) “All Bad”

If nothing else, “All Bad”, like most of the Journals singles, has excellent production working in its favor.   Moody contemporary/alt-R&B cues are in play. The song itself isn’t the most exciting track, but does showcase a more personal side of the pop star compared to less emotional pop records.  Part of the skepticism towards Journals is its self-indulgence, even if such is expected from a diary. As Bieber sings, sometimes one wonders if he has truly taken ownership for his actions, given his bad behavior throughout 2013.  Even as he defends himself on lines like “Perfect – ain’t saying that I am / proven, at least I’ve proven that I give a damn,” you wonder if JB really gets it. Ultimately, “All Bad” isn’t really “all bad”, though a  songwriting upgrade would’ve been nice.

7) “PYD” featuring R. Kelly

PYD”, which stands for “put you down,” is by far Bieber’s best track on Journals as well as his most sexual.  Bieber doesn’t restrict himself to bubblegum pop, instead, opting to “do it right” to his boo.  While Bieber likely plans to be an emotional anchor as well, he’s definitely going to “get it in” regardless. R. Kelly’s guest appearance wipes away doubts as the sex-savvy R&B vet is “…your dope man in the bedroom / you can make me your drug babe.”

Overall, the results are impressive.  The production is mysterious, epitomizing that alt-soul sound that is currently trendy.  Moodiness and sensuality certainly contrast Bieber’s past.  Even his falsetto sounds a bit better… maybe it’s the inspiration from that good… let me stop right there. 

8) “Roller Coaster”

Roller Coaster” brings some funkiness to JB.  Sure, the chorus still finds a moody Bieber at work, but at least it’s somewhat memorable.  Bieber is still sulking, big time: “Where did they go? / Nights like this don’t happen anymore / I need to know / is it me? And did I lose control?” On the pre-chorus, Bieber sings “Wish I had the key to your heart / people come and go / baby, they don’t know / what we had before / before it fell before our eyes.”  On the second verse, ole boy is “just happy there’s no more fights no more / but it’s nights like this that I never ever missed you more…” Basically, he’s just not over Selena Gomez. Regardless of Bieber’s love woes,  “Roller Coaster” is enjoyable. 

9) “Change Me”

“Girl I’m ready if you’re ready now / oh, as I’m ever gonna be / if you’re with it then I’m with it now / to accept all responsibility…I don’t wanna be the same…” Justin Bieber delivers a thoughtful, mostly piano-accompanied ballad on “Change Me”.   Lacking the sensuality of his pivotal “PYD” and the funkiness of “Rollercoaster”, Bieber is incredibly heartbroken.

Justin Bieber © Universal Music Group
Justin Bieber © Universal Music Group

 

The tempo is slow, matching the drag of Bieber’s own emotions.  A definite pro about “Change Me” is that Bieber shows, perhaps for the first time, his willingness to ‘bend’ within the relationship.  While this newfound maturity has been overdue, “Change Me” doesn’t quite possess the same swagger of his two previous offerings.  Still, for once you feel the ‘bad boy’ is backing up his desire to be a man with more masculine, grown music to match.

10) “Confident” featuring Chance the Rapper 

“Confident” shakes off any remnants that might’ve remained from pubescent Bieber.  An assist from up-and-comer Chance the Rapper keeps things ‘one hunna’ as they say. How confident is “Confident”? Well, let’s say the self-esteem and self-efficacy are top-notch for sure.  Bieber isn’t referring to his own swagger, but rather the hottie’s confidence he’s digging on.  Throughout, Bieber’s hormones are going wild, evidenced by lyrics like “Then she started dancing, sexual romancing / nasty but she fancy, lipstick on my satin sheets / what’s your nationality / I wonder if there’s more of you…”

Bieber may not say it, but he definitely wants to “do it”. Chance the Rapper does the ‘dirty work’ for Bieber: “She the first mate wanna rock the boat / she never forget to ride like a bicycle.” “Confident”, hence, sounds like an ‘eye-freak’ track if I ever heard one.  Everybody else has been ‘doing it’ for years… 

The Newbies… 

After building some momentum with a stretch of above-average songs beginning with “PYD”, well ole boy drops down a notch or two with the closing stretch of Journals

11) “One Life”

On “One Life”, Bieber sounds incredibly dedicated (“Hopefully you’ll give me a chance / all I want is love and romance / I wanna give it all, give it all to you “), signaling a true growth in maturity. He emotionally delivers the chorus: “I wanna dream what you dream / go where you’re going / I only have one life / and I only wanna live it with you.”  Sure, it’s kind of sappy and ‘been there, done that’, but the mood is nice.  Word on the street is that Drake co-wrote this one.  As far as the overall song, it’s not bad, but nor is it new territory.

12) “Backpack” featuring Lil Wayne 

“Backpack” is just weird… that’s about all that can be said.  Where “PYD” built respect for the pop star, “Backpack” nearly eliminates it in a matter of minutes.  The concept may have good intentions, but it just doesn’t work, at all.  “Don’t try to find your spaceship / it might be out there waiting / stay in my backpack forever / stay in my backpack forever,” Bieber sings on the oddball hook.  Lil Wayne does little to enhance things, only confounding this track that was “made all wrong from the start”.  SMH. 

13) “What’s Hatnin’” featuring Future

There are few pros to be found on the clumsy “What’s Hatnin’”.  Why is “What’s Hatnin’” so horrid? Basically, it plays upon modern clichés and recycles a song that the urban world has heard one too many times.  I’ve come to the realization that anytime Future graces a track it’s probably going to be a disaster (save for say “Bugatti”).  The one redeeming facet of this cut is the production.  The song is abysmal – thumbs way down.

14) “Swap It Out”

After the absolutely shameful throwaway “What’s Hatnin’”, things can only look up for Journals right? Overall, yes. “Swap It Out” isn’t the ‘second coming’ (what is though?), but it definitely shows improvement.   It is easily one of the better-produced records, sounding more legit than some of the others.  That said, if you compare it to “PYD”, it’s not quite as good.   Of the five newbies though, it’s the most consistent and enjoyable. 

15) “Memphis” featuring Big Sean 

JB closes a disappointing closing stretch of Journals with “Memphis”, which to its credit, contrasts every other track that precedes it.  The production is a bright spot, but also the song itself is semi-enjoyable.  The pro is that if nothing else, it seems Bieber and company has the right idea.  Still, this doesn’t feel like a home run.  Big Sean’s verse isn’t nearly as memorable as “As Long As You Love Me” in which he claimed his girl was his “hallelujah.”  ‘Sending up those timbers’ everyday Big Sean?

Justin Bieber performs live at the MGM Grand Garden Arena as part of his 2013 'Believe Tour' Las Vegas 06/28/2013 © WENN
Justin Bieber performs live at the MGM Grand Garden Arena as part of his 2013 ‘Believe Tour’ Las Vegas 06/28/2013 © WENN

 

Ultimately, Journals is a step in the right direction stylistically for Bieber.  The execution is at times merely so-so, which takes away from some of the strides the Canadian pop star has made.  Still, he gets it right on a couple of occasions here, but don’t call Journals a masterpiece – it’s not.

Favorites: “Recovery”; “PYD” featuring R. Kelly; “Roller Coaster”; “Confident” featuring Chance The Rapper

★★★

Photo Credits:  © WENN, © Universal Music Group
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2 comments

  1. 3 stars only? Justin has improved so much and has showed his emotions in his music. This is a major improvement from his Believe album and this album has caught eyes of not only teenage girls anymore! 3 stars is a terrible review. He deserves 4-5 stars.

    • The argument can be made that Bieber’s improved, however, that doesn’t mean that the material itself will necessarily stand the ‘test of time’ or be considered ‘classic’. Journals had its moments, but in my personal opinion, even where Bieber has improved, I can’t see myself calling it truly ‘classic’ or ‘revolutionary’. I reserve 4 and 5 star ratings for only the very best albums, and this was not what I’d consider ‘elite’. Good perhaps, not elite.

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