x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A hint of an edge from Justin Bieber

The now 18-year-old Justin Bieber begins a slow approach into artistic adulthood with a new album that features some racier songs.

The singer Justin Bieber's second studio album continues with the tried-and-true pop approach. Chris Pizzello / AP Photo
The singer Justin Bieber's second studio album continues with the tried-and-true pop approach. Chris Pizzello / AP Photo

Justin Bieber
Believe
Mercury
***

"If I could just die in your arms, I wouldn't mind," pines Justin Bieber, suddenly resembling Morrissey on one of Believe's more memorable moments. Anxious "Beliebers" can relax though, as the teen heart-throb isn't testing their devotion with a radical change of direction. Well, not towards gloomy indie, anyway.

This second studio album - ignoring last year's Christmas effort - finds the now 18-year-old phenomenon still whispering an exhaustive array of sweet nothings at his expectant followers, while also trying his hand at racier material. The shift is particularly apparent on the awkwardly back-to-back tracks Right Here and Catching Feelings, as Bieber reverts from provocative and alluring to sweet and innocent. "They say we're too young for love, but I'm catching feelings," he trills on the latter, in a tone bordering on the shrill.

Mature listeners will also wince at Thought of You, on which the singer's vocal range again gets worryingly close to its unlistenable upper limit. Stay with it though, and this is actually a fine dance-pop song driven by the in-demand producer Diplo, one of several credible contributors. Indeed, a recent Twitter trend insisted that "Justin is Gangsta" due to the A-list rappers who pop up on this record's edgier dance tracks, which alternate with the familiar mawkish ballads.

The album opener, All Around the World, hints at Daft Punk's similarly named funk-house classic, with some tamer-than-usual rhymes from Ludacris ("hate may win some battles, but love wins in the end"). Right Here includes a cameo of almost Hitchcockian brevity from his Canadian compatriot Drake, and As Long as You Love Me, featuring the Californian MC Big Sean, includes one offensive line - but from Bieber. "We could be starving, we could be homeless," suggests the mansion-dwelling star, as if that wouldn't be overly problematic.

The track that may really trouble his fan base, however, is Beauty and a Beat, an invigorating hard-dance effort featuring a splendidly squelchy instrumental section, again in the Daft Punk vein.

If that surprisingly out-there moment perturbs many Beliebers, then so will the presence of the contentious rap vixen Nicki Minaj, who provides the most salacious rap on the record and compounds the affront by name-checking his actual beau, the much-envied Selena Gomez.

Believe is something of a transitional record, then, edging towards more adult themes while trying manfully not to alienate the current audience, who should take heart from the title track, at least. "Where would I be if you didn't believe?" gushes the idol, to his faithful.

Any further liaisons with Minaj, and he may well find out.