Bieber returns with aggressively apologetic 'Purpose'

Sunday, November 15, 2015 - 7:10pm

NOSELL

Def Jam

 

On Friday, Justin Bieber released his fourth studio album, Purpose, to let us all know he’s really, really sorry for everything he has done in the last couple of years: for the time he was detained on charges of driving under the influence and resisting arrest, for the whole vandalizing-his-neighbor’s-house-with-eggs-and-causing-$20,000-in-damage thing, for assaulting a limo driver in Toronto, for spitting on fans from a balcony and for, of course, abandoning his pet monkey in Munich (possibly his worst transgression to date).

But like he explains on the hit single “Sorry,” “you know that I try but I don’t do too well with apologies.” That’s evident on Purpose; it’s his attempted retribution narrative, rather than a well-curated collection of songs. Bieber asks his fans — and his ex-girlfriend and singer Selena Gomez — to forgive him, maybe with a little more aggression that we’d like.

The opening track, “Mark My Words,” begins Bieber’s apology and promise to be better. “I’ll Show You” has the singer reminding us, “Don’t forget that I’m human / Don’t forget that I’m real.”  On “No Pressure,” he takes responsibility for his actions, “I made a few mistakes / I did it to myself / I’m the only one to blame.” The unironically titled “Life Is Worth Living” addresses the scrutiny he’s faced, “They try to crucify me / I ain’t perfect, won’t deny / My reputation’s on the line / So I’m working on a better me.”

And his apology culminates on the final track, the album’s title track, “Purpose,” which ends with a minute-long monologue about his coming of age experiences, “You can’t be hard on yourself for these were the cards that you were given, so you have to understand that these, like … that’s not who you are.”

Still, when Bieber’s on, he’s on. By modern-production standards, Purpose contains some outstanding tracks. With the help of household house music producer Skrillex, we forget about Bieber’s overeager redemptive narrative and just enjoy ourselves. Pre-released singles “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry,” which follow each other successively, mark some of the most satisfying moments on the album. Despite the uninspired lyrics on “Where Are U Now” (“Where are you now that I need you? / Where are you now that I need you? / Where are you now that I need you?”) and “I’ll Show You”  (“My life is a movie and everyone’s watching”), the synthesized dance beats boast Skrillex’s dominant presence on the album. “Mark My Words” offers a Bieber exposed, and “No Pressure” calls to mind Confessions-era Usher, the more sultry sound highlighting Bieber’s raw vocal talent.  

But the cacophony of different genres feels a bit jarring. The grotesquely insincere “Children” asks, “What about the children? / Look at all the children we can change / What about the vision?” before entering into a Skrillex-produced beat drop. On ballad “Life is Worth Living,” Bieber compares his love life to an avalanche — “Relationship on a ski slope” — almost immediately after tracks with Travi$ Scott and Big Sean features; it feels unnatural. In the Ed Sheeran-written “Love Yourself,” Bieber regresses back to his 2009 “Baby” sound, displacing the album’s “look at me, I’m growing as a person!!” narrative.

Bieber may not be great with apologies, but this project proves it’s never too late to say sorry. And as far as career strategies go, this album is a damn good one. The singer may have slightly compromised his sound and his vocal abilities to fit the current dance club-driven music scene, but Purpose shows Bieber’s got just that again.