Justin Bieber Bellows Incessantly on ‘Changes’
Who would have thought in 2010 that Justin Bieber would end up here? The younger Bieber always split the public quite evenly, as everyone seemed to find him either adorable or irritating. He grew up in front of the cameras, predictably became rebellious, and developed a reputation for being an insufferable youth, while maintaining that of a heartthrob to his fans. Last year, he announced a hiatus to work on personal issues, to the joy of millions. Those who didn’t share this sentiment will welcome his return on “Changes.” Of course Bieber would release an album on Valentines Day, and the record is essentially a tribute to his wife, Hailey Baldwin, with every song an outpouring of affection. It showcases an older Bieber centering on a more pointed sonic and lyrical focus, but hardly impresses in terms of tunes.
Opener “All Around Me” is sappy, standard, diluted R&B fare, with Bieber crooning away. When he hits high notes and gets particularly expressive, he approaches something like, say, Usher, if you took away most of the spark. The lyrics could hardly be more trite. After this, “Habitual” comes as a refreshingly dynamic track, with a mellow, understated beat, and Bieber sounding on top of his game, completely unexpected. This is short-lived, however, with “Come Around” returning promptly to the shtick of the opener. Bieber sounds unbearable when he puts on his helium falsetto. The rest might be appreciated by fans of early Justin Timberlake.
“Intentions,” featuring Quavo, is the strongest track of the album, much thanks to a sparkly production by Poo Bear and the Audibles. Bieber’s melody is catchy too, although held back by such lyrical fodder as “Shout-out to your mom and dad for makin’ you.” And Yummy,” with it’s chorus of “Yeah, you got that yummy, yummy, yummy,” goes beyond cringey. There’s nothing too infectious about the melodies or the basic, trap-influenced beat, and Bieber’s lyrics are his standard fare. Why this was chosen as a single defies comprehension.
Millions of girls worldwide will revel in “Available” because of its refrain “I’m available.” Others will laugh. The trap accents are more prominent on this one, and Bieber whines away incessantly. A more excitable collaboration comes in “Forever,” featuring Post Malone, as well as Clever. It’s easily one of the catchier tunes, and the three voices riff on the same basic melodic line, each putting their distinctive stamp on the track, and although Bieber’s is hardly distinctive, there’s more personality on this number than most of the album. The same goes for the next track, but solely because of Lil Dicky, whose unique rapping style injects some style into an otherwise insipid cut.
“Take It Out on Me” is a highlight, merely because of the line, “I’ll be your punching bag.” There’s also a wonky beat with more old school hip-hop flavor than typical. “Second Emotion” finds Bieber singing about whiplash, an advancement from the last track. There’s an infectious beat carrying this one, and Travis Scott features, but for a few scant bars that are just a tease. The tracks with guest features are sequenced in blocks, as if to offer intervals of respite from too much Bieber. Kehlani shows up on “Get Me,” and provides a decent counterpart to Bieber on a typically saccharine duet.
“ETA” features jazzy guitar, much like that throughout Russ’ last album, and it might be the most stylish thing on this record. The refrain, “I just wanna know your E.T.A.” is also one of the more original bits in the set of hackneyed love songs. “Changes” is a humorous point, as it’s hard not to visualize the Bieber’s evolution from floppy-haired tween to the current cheeseball extraordinaire upon the refrain, “I’m goin’ through changes. “Confirmation” finds Bieber confirming, “We’ve got the rest of our lives” again and again, as if to demonstrate this by example.
The impassioned outpouring of “That’s What Love Is” is a particularly expressive song, which simply gets absurd when it takes on Disney colors and Bieber actually lets out a “Lalala.” The spacious “At least for now” brings the album to a fitting end, with Bieber recapping the devotion exuded on every other song. Finally, there’s a remix of “Yummy,” featuring Summer Walker, whose brief cameo is the most engaging part of the track, but not enough to salvage it.
“Changes” is certainly a cohesive album, which turns out to be both a strength and a weakness. With all of its seventeen tracks expressing Bieber’s “head-over-heels” infatuation, it’s hard not to try to admire the dedication. However, a project of this only works if there’s some poetry to it. These songs are severely hackneyed, with a few exceptions. The lead single is downright ridiculous, and there are no tunes that match up to Bieber’s biggest commercial successes of recent years. “Changes” is a hastily thrown together album that finds Bieber straying from his general pop roots, and diving headlong into R&B, turning out a lukewarm set of throwaway songs.
“Changes” is available Feb. 14 on Apple Music.