Justin Bieber Grows Up On ‘Purpose’ (Album Review)  


Justin Bieber, Purpose © Def Jam

Justin Bieber • Purpose • Def Jam • Release Date: November 13, 2015

“I put my all into your hands / here’s my soul to keep / I let you in whit all that I can / you’re not hard to reach.” Wait a minute – hold the bleep up – is this the same Justin Bieber that was peeing in a mop bucket and proclaimed “F**k Clinton?” The answer is a resounding ‘yes, it’s the same Bieber.’ On his fourth studio album Purpose, Bieber shows both artistic and personal maturity, which is definitely a good luck for the trouble pop heartthrob. Does Purpose exemplify perfection? No, but it is the ‘right’ album at the ‘right’ time for Bieber, who has had a decent year – save for the whole overexposure depending upon who you ask.

Moving on, Purpose has its moments. “Mark My Words” initiates enigmatically, with nebulousness and a lack of percussive anchor. If nothing more, “Mark My Words” is an attention-getter, featuring exceptional production and well-rounded vocals from Bieber. “I’ll Show You” is more stable with a rhythmic identity, though initially the mysterious vibe carries over. The best way to describe the sound is ‘Drake-onian’ in reference to Drake’s emo hip-hop/contemporary R&B style. Autobiographically driven, Bieber acknowledge his faults, singing, “Cause life’s not easy, I’m not made out of steel / don’t forget that I’m human…” …The best way to characterize Bieber’s show and tell? – REDEMPTION.

“What Do You Mean?” has long established itself as a force in pop music. While the sound pop song has be overhyped somewhat, denying its solidness would be an understatement. Vocally, Bieber sings with ease, never forcing things or over singing. While it’s not particularly rousing, it’s not surprising it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. “Sorry” fell short of the glory of the top spot, but debuting in the runner-up spot is nonetheless impressive. Arguably, “Sorry” is the stronger record, again finding Bieber in apologetic mode. “You know I tried but I don’t do too well with apologies,” he sings at one point, later adding “I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice / by once or twice I mean maybe a couple a hundred times.” He made none with “Sorry,” so kudos.

Following the one-two punch of “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry,” things cool somewhat. “Love Yourself” is good, but doesn’t set itself apart from the crème de la crème. Still, Bieber deserves credit for the singer/songwriter vibe – or maybe it’s co-writers Benjamin Levin and Ed Sheeran. “Cause if you like the way you look so much / oh baby you should go love yourself,” he asserts on the chorus. “Love Yourself” is followed by more three more sensual numbers.

It’s not unusual for a 21-year old to reference sex, so the red-blooded Bieber gets a pass in that department. That said, maybe the libido is overwrought with three consecutive physically driven numbers in “Company,” “No Pressure,” and “No Sense.” On “Company,” Bieber embraces hooking-up, better known as one night stands where the door is closed on emotions. It’s shallow, particularly the innuendo supreme of “It ain’t about the complications / I’m all about elevation/ we can keep it goin’ up,” but it’s also no deal breaker.

The two songs following it are a bit more questionable, not just based upon their horniness, but the lackadaisical collaborations. Big Sean graces his third Justin Bieber song, but his cameo on “No Pressure” doesn’t supersede that of “As Long As You Love Me,” clumsy “hallelujah” line and all. The six-eight groove and touch of acoustic guitar is a pro, but Sean’s most notable line is his Empire reference: “Oh you know I eat the cookie like I’m Lucious.” Bieber isn’t off the hook either, as he cites R&B’s most lascivious personality R. Kelly: “Put my key in the ignition / don’t rush it girl, just stretch it out for me.” Biebz, exactly what is she stretching out there buddy?

Closing out the trio is “No Sense,” featuring rap newbie Travi$ Scott. Much like Scott’s debut album Rodeo, his performance is off-putting. Again, Bieber gets it in: “It don’t make no sense, ‘less I’m doing it with you.” O…K… “The Feeling” gives Purpose its best vocal collaboration, bringing in pop newbie Halsey. While “The Feeling” may not be on the level of “What Do You Mean?” or “Sorry” necessarily, it’s among better moments.

Maturity is the modus operandi of “Life Is Worth Living,” one of many moments that find Bieber showing personal progression. Piano-driven, it may not impress his younger fans because of its poise, but a more mature audience that wrote off Bieber will at least give the pop star a second look. “Where Are Ü Now” completes the trio of the best of Purpose, all issues prior to the album. Sure deadmau5 may have his issues with Diplo & Skrillex’s infectious electro-pop joint, but it’s hard to deny it as one of 2015’s more memorable tunes. It’s not a songwriter’s song, but neither is it intended to be.

“Children” and “Purpose” showcase grown-up Bieber once more. “Children” is arguably less far-fetched, given up-tempo, ‘makes you wanna step’ groove. Still, the selflessness is a far cry from the selfishness and growing pains exhibited by Bieber. “Purpose” shouldn’t be considered as much of a stretch either considering Bieber released an inspirational song called “Pray” years back, but on “Purpose,” Bieber sounds like he’s taken a greater leap of faith. Is it legit? That’s between Bieber and the Most High, but it’s certainly a respectable way to close the standard edition of the album.

Is the deluxe edition worth the extra bucks? Depends on where your fandom lies. The two best songs are “Been You,” which could’ve made the standard edition, and six-eight contemporary R&B joint “Trust.” The draw on paper will be the Nas feature, “We Are,” but it’s different to say the least. Bieber sounds solid, but Nas’ rhymes and style don’t exactly suit this type of track. “Get Used To Me” and “All In It” don’t particularly stand out.

Ultimately, how does Bieber do three years later? He returns to the game…get ready for it… respectably. Purpose isn’t a homerun, but it’s good enough to restore Bieber to pop glory. No, it doesn’t mean that all is forgiven, redemption or not, but Bieber can get back to doing what he should’ve been in three years of excess – making music. Give him credit.

Favorites: “What Do You Mean?” “Sorry,” “Life Is Worth Living,” “Were Are Ü Now,” “Purpose”; “Been You” (Deluxe Edition)

★★★½    

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