Less than a few minutes into ‘Purpose’ Justin Bieber claims, “My life’s a movie and everyone’s watching”. In the 3 years since his last album, 2012’s ‘Believe’, that film has morphed from the Hangover-style comedy into something more tragic.
The 21-year-old Canadian has spent recent times pissing – literally sometimes – around the squeaky clean image that propelled his first three records to greater than 15m combined sales. As well as that incident using a bucket in the restaurant kitchen, he’s puked onstage in Arizona, worn a gas mask to dinner in London, clashed with paparazzi and been arrested for assault and dangerous driving in Canada.
This fourth album is Bieber’s possibility to say sorry: its cold, urbane pop casts him as being a wounded soul wanting to move on. “Let’s arrive at the good bit and past all of the nonsense”, he sings on ‘I’ll Show You’, certainly one of five tracks that is generated by Skrillex. The EDM giant’s presence – in addition to exec producer Rick Rubin and “adviser” Kanye West – shows the music activity is changing too. ‘Purpose’ largely backs up the sense that it is an artist in transformation – a Disney pop money machine quietly blooming into an R&B sophisticate.
Much from the record echoes the dancefloor melancholy from the three banging singles that preceded it, ‘What Do You Mean?’, the Skrillex-produced ‘Sorry’ and ‘Where Are Ü Now’ (the summer-conquering collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo’s Jack Ü). Opener ‘Mark My Words’ is usually a burst of pitch-shifted vocals and apologetic promises (“Mark my words, they are all that I have”). The funk-laced ‘Company’ can be a hit-in-waiting, while ‘No Pressure’ is darker, a sprawl of bassy beats and private epiphanies (“Don’t nobody deserve myself”) reminiscent of The Weeknd. Elsewhere, ‘No Sense’ sees Texan rapper Travis Scott bring a similar slurring malice he dropped at Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’, between motor-themed humblebrags from Biebs: “I’ve driven every car, ain’t precisely the same without you”.
It doesn’t all work so well. ‘The Feeling’, featuring New Jersey pop sensation Halsey, and ‘Love Yourself’, written with Ed Sheeran, tend to be traditionally Bieber, in addition to their big pop hooks are misplaced amidst the forward-thinking electronic scuttle. Then there’s ‘Children’ – Bieber’s own ‘Earth Song’, which asks “What around the children?” before a hyperactive EDM drop from Skrillex. A good question about responsibility – but one that’d oftimes be better coming from your dude who didn’t abandon a creature monkey in the German airport in 2012.
But once ‘Purpose’ ends which has a spoken-word segment about how exactly Bieber “wasn’t necessarily put in the most effective position to create the best decisions” recently, it’s clear an abundance of good choices are already made here. It’s nearly redemption – only time will tell if he’ll curb the recklessness – but it’s certainly a start at reinvention.