Justin Bieber has dropped his first album in five years Changes. It's a self-declared move back to 'R&Bieber' and the first few singles from the record have confirmed that. At 17-songs, can Bieber maintain that for the entire record or is he going to switch it up? We're about to find out.
All Around Me
Much like Mark My Words from Purpose, All Around Me eases us into the album with a beat-free cut that puts Bieber's voice front and center. It's a dedication to Hayley obviously - "Anything is possible since you made my heart melt."
Here come the beats and we're straight into a woozy R&B mode. "We're each others vice," Bieber sings while the synths swirls around him. He conjures up a slow and steady hook that doesn't quite hit the sweet spot. It feels like he's coasting which isn't a great sign at track 2.
Come Around Me
Come Around Me borrows straight from the modern hip-hop world with a beat that could easily sit on A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie or Lil Baby record. Bieber gives us some piercing falsetto and the best hook of the record yet but we're now three songs in and they're failing to give any depth.
Intentions (Feat. Quavo)
Intentions sounds like the biggest pop song on earth compared to its three predecessors. If I ignore the word "equity" I can actually get into this chorus and the beat is pretty delectable.
We've heard this one obviously and we're not going to go too much into it. It didn't hit right when it dropped and it still doesn't.
More trap beats! Yay! Here's the thing. This is the sixth love song of the album which is fine. We're yet to hear anything other than surface-level things like, "I get frustrated when you're busy." Honestly, this song makes him sound needy to a point that's disruptive to either of them succeeding in their own way.
Thank God! This hook has woken me up. It's just pure melody surrounded by little else than a minimal, aquatic beat. Bieber's falsetto sounds great and he sounds the most present he has the whole album. I never thought I'd say this but Post Malone comes through like a saving grace delivering a gutsy verse. The best song so far.
I still haven't forgiven Lil Dicky for Earth or anything he's done really so this is going to be a hard pill to swallow but we're going to try. Running Over, much like every other song, gives us trap beats with some bubbly overtones. I know Bieber feels comfortable with Poo Bear and The Audibles but comfort seems to be the issue here. Purpose's array of producers really challenged Bieber to show us new sides. Here, he's on auto-pilot.
Take It Out On Me
On Take It Out On Me Bieber is offering himself as a punching bag so that he can be, "the meaning of your composure." It's a sweet message but it doesn't really go beyond that. I can't shake the feeling that I really want more at this point. I understand that this is an R&B album but when you think about the best R&B voices around right now from Kehlani to SZA, they give us different flavours throughout the record - upbeat, ballads, pop-tinges, hip-hop nods. Changes is running in one gear.
Second Emotion (Feat. Travis Scott)
Travis Scott is the only returning guest from Purpose and it looks like he's picked himself one of the album's shining moments. Vocally, Bieber is hitting the beat with energy and serving a hook as good as any Post Malone hit. There's nothing particularly noteworthy to Scott's verse but it also doesn't retract. Scott rarely gives much energy to features, saving all his best material for himself. It's a clever tactic.
Get Me (Feat. Kehlani)
This is my favourite of the songs we got before the album dropped. Kehlani sounds so good that in a way she shows what Bieber lacks as an R&B vocalist. She has a finesse and is able to switch from hard to soft in a second.
Apart from the opener, this may be our first trap beat-free cut. E.T.A. opens with acoustic guitar with Bieber sounding like he's channelling Frank Ocean and Daniel Caesar. I really like how his voice sounds on this album when it's not crowded. He's got a killer falsetto and it's what carries this song.
More acoustic guitar for the title track and the shortest track on the whole album. This may be the closest he comes to addressing what he's been through over the last few years which, might I add, has been significant. "Sometimes I smile like it's all good even though there's pain underneath it," he sings. More of this sort of depth, please.
From the outset I know I'm going to like this. I'm not sure what was the purpose of re-starting the track but I'll forgive. This is the most intimate love song on the album and Bieber is actually giving us earnest lyrics. "Take a moment to cherish this space," he sings, freezing time, before singing, "We've got the rest of our lives." If I've learnt anything from this record it's that his relationship with Hailey is strong.
That's What Love Is
This whole back half of the album seems to be acoustic. While I'm not 100 per cent on board with that, melodically it's giving me what I needed in the front half. "Let the best of our worlds combine," is a nice lyric. Bieber is proclaiming that he's found true love and you actually believe it when he's hitting the heavens with that falsetto.
At Least For Now
There seem to be some very light country tinges to this track which wouldn't have been the worst direction for Bieber to go in on this album. At Least For Now seems to be an observational stream-of-consciousness that is a little meandering at times. This album could've been split into two half because the tracks from Get Me onwards sound like they're made for a different project.
Yummy (Feat. Summer Walker)
Just in case you forgot Yummy it's back with Summer Walker. Walker does her best but it's not enough to save this sinking ship.
Changes is obviously going to draw comparisons to Journals because of its R&B influence and that's fair. The difference is Journals felt like a mainstream rebellion by one of the biggest popstars on the planet and that energy shone through. Now, R&B and trap beats are all over the mainstream. That coupled with the fact Bieber is in a very comfortable relationship and working with his most trusted collaborators means that Changes often sounds complacent. We're not suggesting he blow it all up for the sake of a good song but sometimes risk equals excitement.
Excitement is what Changes is missing. It delivers a very surface-level message of love and trust over what starts to feel like the same beat over and over again. There are some very good songs on here but they're somewhat lost surrounded by mediocrity. Changes is not a bad album - every song on here is passable - it just would've benefitted from some sort of ambition.