Justin Bieber is now long past Brat Stage and has reached Happily Married Man, as detailed on his last album, Changes. Released on Valentine’s Day 2020, that one was the musical equivalent of a teddy bear with love heart eyes, so dedicated to devotion that it sounded like its only intended listener was his model wife Hailey Baldwin. It did end up selling more than one copy, but significantly fewer than its 2015 predecessor, Purpose, which was the one whose fuzzy dance pop convinced a lot of cynics that he was actually all right.
From the pre-release build-up for this sixth album, it sounded like the 27-year-old was thinking about those outside snogging range again. “In a time when there’s so much wrong with this broken planet, we all crave healing, and justice, for humanity,” he said. In a documentary about the album’s creation, he acknowledged that there were difficulties in this past year beyond him being unable to go on tour: “So many people in quarantine lost their jobs. So many people don’t have the privilege to work… I wanna do my best with this opportunity to create stuff that will inspire and give them an insight and maybe some cool different perspective too.”
So that title could be more significant than a play on his name, though he’s probably regretting it now that the French dance duo Justice have sent him a cease and desist order for duplicating their T-as-a-crucifix logo. The record begins with Martin Luther King Jr intoning: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” After the wide-ranging upheavals of 2020, are we going to see Bieber get political?
Short answer – no. King gives way to 2 Much, a light, piano led love ballad. Later the minister reappears for a longer speech, announcing: “One day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause,” which inexplicably leads into the Eighties funk of Die for You – “You” being a girl rather than that great principle mentioned two minutes earlier.
It’s a great tune, with far more focus and energy than Bieber displayed on Changes. Musically, there’s plenty more to enjoy, including the shimmering EDM synths of Ghost and further blasts of glossy Eighties fun in the shape of Hold On and Somebody. With more co-writers than the Bible, no wonder there’s little to fault in the precision-tooled pop on offer. It was just a mistake to think that he was going to have something significant to say this time.