Isn't it strange that the Bieber fever that has overtaken the world over the past two years actually hasn't come with a whole lot of new Justin Bieber music? Since "My World 2.0" was released in March 2010, Bieber has toured the world, released a 3D movie, issued every piece of merchandise available (do YOU have your Justin Bieber trading cards handy?), and even scored two more No. 1 albums, first with a "Never Say Never" remix package, and then with a very solid holiday offering, "Under The Mistletoe."
Those latter two releases gave Bieber's rabid fans a quick fix and hinted at the pop superstar's newfound maturity, all while whetting appetites for "Believe," his highly anticipated new full-length. Unlike with artists such as Lady Gaga or Rihanna, the trajectory of Bieber's career has been based more on the 18-year-old as a person and brand more than a slew of hit singles -- "Baby" certainly seems like a long time ago, and we, as music fans, have gotten to learn everything imaginable about this good-looking Canadian kid before hearing its grown-up follow-up singles.
And so, "Believe" has arrived. It is a very enjoyable, dance-leaning pop record, but it is not the new Justin Timberlake album. And why should it be? Bieber is still just 18 years old and trying to find his musical lane while grappling with an unprecedented amount of attention. Because his growth in front of the camera has occurred so quickly and steadfastly, his music has been (unfairly) expected to do the same. "Believe" has multiple songs that hint at what Bieber could become someday -- "Fall" is a very capable ballad that scratches the surface of truly affecting songwriting; "Right Here" features Bieber being inspired by a rapper whose own mind has been freed, "Matrix"-style; and "Boyfriend" and "Die In Your Arms" remain undeniable singles, the former especially pushing the young singer into new stylistic territory.
Overall, "Believe" sinks its tendrils into the listener's brain by riding the dance music phenomenon and offering some whizz-bang production alongside Bieber's sticky-sweet singing voice. The lyrics are unfussy and at times too complacent in their rhymes, but the music powers the weaker moments through unnoticed. This is a pop record, and even if the flashes of poetic brilliance aren't there, the hooks very much are.
"Believe" does not offer any moments of transcendence, nor does it include a "Cry Me A River." And that's okay. Justin Bieber may not have crossed over into the fearless stomping grounds of the Timberlakes yet, but he may very well get there someday, and that's all we need to know for now.
Which songs on "Believe" are worth repeated listens? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of Bieber's latest.
01. All Around The World ft. Ludacris - Breathy vocals swirl around a beat that pierces the listener on first contact. Ludacris raps in double-time as the album's electronica obsession is immediately presented.
02. Boyfriend - One swaggy single to rule them all: Justin softly offers fondue recommendations and Buzz Lightyear metaphors on top of Mike Posner's loopy production. What shouldn't be one of the year's strongest singles most certainly is.
03. As Long As You Love Me ft. Big Sean - A massive yet somehow intimate dance track, with the drums almost reaching hair metal levels in their vibrations. The Biebs handles his business, but Big Sean's verse probably isn't necessary.
04. Catching Feelings - Flush with guitar and drums, "Catching Feelings" is a showcase for Bieber's blossoming voice to emote about butterflies in his stomach. "Could it be a possibility?/I'm tryin' to see what's up," he sings, the lines feeling like wind through the listener's hair.
05. Take You - Roboticized Euro-dance that sweeps through different tempos. After a "Hold It Against Me"-esque breakdown, the climax is cold and beautiful.
06. Right Here ft. Drake - Drizzy is right in line with Bieber's screwed-up, pit-in-your-stomach romantic feelings, and even throws out similarly constructed warbles and ad-libs. Two young stars brushing love letters off their shoulders.
07. Fall - According to manager Scooter Braun, "Fall" was inspired by the weepy romance "A Walk To Remember." Bieber tries to extract sorrow from the rumbling percussion, falling to his knees as layered vocals increase the melodrama.
08. Die In Your Arms - A supremely silly but wholly likable Motown riff, with the Biebs' voice snapping right along with the piano flourishes.
09. Thought Of You - Diplo produced this epic, falsetto-driven ode to living in the moment; the song won't stay still, its bass thickening around a series of futuristic movements until ending, somehow appropriately, with a piano and a siren.
10. Beauty And A Beat ft. Nicki Minaj - This playful electro-pop composition feels like a lost LMFAO single -- but Bieber is too emo for RedFoo and Sky Blu's detached sexuality. Nicki Minaj talks shit and rhymes 'wiener' with 'Selener.'
11. One Love - Bieber's dance assault relents for a second with a repetitive, synth-based sugar packet. With its cluttered drum patterns and random bass blasts, "One Love" musically coincides with the rest of "Believe," but is a wee bit weaker.
12. Be Alright - A guitar ballad as a soothing lullaby, in which Bieber doesn't try to over-sing his basic love lyrics. Straightforward but potent.
13. Believe - Hold your lighters up and sway from side to side -- this one's for you, fans! Bieber thanks the people who helped make him a super-duper-star with a clean, substantial anthem that plays out like a Disney song.
14. Out Of Town Girl - The most overtly sexual tone on the album, as Bieber engages in some tongue-wagging over an elastic rhythm. "All you gotta do is swag," the young gun promises. It's a (relatively) dangerous pose.
15. She Don't Like The Lights - Those lights are, of course, popping camera bulbs, and Bieber 's vulnerability seeps through a wall of drums here. The production gyrates and shape-shifts until ending in an aggressive, entertaining pile-up.
16. Maria - The song that is not about Mariah Yeater, officially -- but is definitely about Mariah Yeater. "Maria" is an electronic takedown of an obsessive fan, a mix of "Billie Jean" and a shot glass full of venom. A fascinating piece of pop drama, but why include it on such a positive album?