Justin Bieber's new album ‘Believe' is beautifully sung and deftly adds a Euro-house beat to the teen idol's usual R&B mix.
At this point in his whirlwind career, Justin Bieber's singing ranks among the least important drivers of his fame. More significant in a minute-to-minute sense are his freshly upswept hair (a kind of post-emo pompadour), his exclamatory Twitter feed (“FRANCE!! i see u. thank u!!”) and the many, many photographs depicting his and girlfriend Selena Gomez's support of the Southern California fast-food industry (these kids love their Chick-fil-A). We're talking the nuts and bolts, in other words, of 21st century teen idoldom — the everyday texture of a life lived under the social-media microscope.
Yet if Bieber's voice has gotten relatively short shrift over the two years since he released “My World 2.0,” the Canadian-born pop star's new sophomore full-length serves as a gentle correction: For all its cutting-edge production and grown-up talk of “swag, swag, swag,” “Believe” feels designed primarily to showcase his increasing vocal ability; it might be the year's most beautifully sung recording.
As befits a young man who turned 18 in March, Bieber's voice has deepened from the mall-rat squeak captured in early tunes like “One Less Lonely Girl” and the adorably aspirational “Bigger,” which urged a girlfriend to believe in him “like a fairy tale / Put a tooth under your pillowcase.” (The innocent bedtime fantasy was a recurring trope on Bieber's 2009 debut EP, “My World”: “I know they said belief in love is a dream that can't be real,” he acknowledged in “Favorite Girl,” “So, girl, let's write a fairy tale and show 'em how we feel.”)
That inevitable downward tendency, though, hasn't thickened Bieber's appealingly lightweight tone in new songs such as “Boyfriend” and “Catching Feelings”; the latter, especially, demonstrates how nimbly he can navigate a melody that sounds borrowed from teen-years Michael Jackson.
Jackson's early work is an obvious lodestar on “Believe,” as is “Justified,” the solo debut that Justin Timberlake released in 2002 following his stint with the hugely successful boy band 'N Sync. In “Die In Your Arms,” Rodney Jerkins — one of Bieber's key producers here, along with Adam Messinger and Nasri — samples Jackson's “We've Got a Good Thing Going,” from 1972's “Ben” album; “Take You” evokes the clipped funk of Timberlake's “Like I Love You.”