Review: Justin Bieber returns with 'Purpose,' and a good album too

If by the end of Justin Bieber’s new album “Purpose” it was not clear what the message was, the eponymous final track hammers in the final nail.

“I feel like this, so let me just like try my best not to let this happen again,” Bieber pleads in a spoken word outro. “We weren’t necessarily put in the best position to make the best decisions.”

Thrown from low-key Canadian adolescence into international pop superstardom just a few years ago, this may be true. But one does not simply relieve himself into a restaurant mop bucket for no reason. There are undeniable traces of immaturity simmering under the surface here.

So Bieber sets out with “Purpose” to explain himself, with a related apology appearing in spurts. “Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing/When the pressure’s coming down like lightning,” helps center the energetically-defiant “I’ll Show You.” On the uplifting “Life is Worth Living,” he tells it straight: “My reputation’s on the line/So I’m working on a better me.”

His message hits the sweet spot between a relaxed shoulder shrug and excessive regret, so we take his word for it. When you look at the excessive flak Bieber has taken for simply following his dream over the years, it seems right to give him another chance.

He seems aware of how important it is to deliver on this chance, and this is most evident in the exclamatory, frantic “Sorry.” Bieber imbues the chorus with a power unlike most of the album, and sells it excellently.

This burst of power, while successful, goes against one of his greatest strengths: the melodic airiness of his voice. Bieber received critical acclaim this year for his wispy contribution to the Skrillex-and-Diplo summer smash “Where Are U Now,” which also makes an appearance here. He uses this same quality to help elevate many of the tracks on “Purpose,” most notably the popular single “What Do You Mean?”

Skrillex contributes production to four of the album’s tracks, including the superb Halsey collaboration “The Feeling,” establishing EDM as a significant part of the album’s aesthetic. Also prevalent: laid-back R&B, which provides an extra dimension to “Love Yourself” and “Life is Worth Living.” The production is strong all around, never stepping on Bieber’s toes while providing a suitable canvas for him to paint on.

And paint he does, with lyrics that deal frequently in conversational absolutes and rarely in eye-rolling cheesiness. Leave that to Big Sean, who observes on “No Pressure” that he and his significant other have “been fighting more than Ryu and Ken.”

Overall, “Purpose” is a delectable piece of pop art, rolling a variety of appetizing sounds into a smooth package unified by a compelling central figure. Bieber comes armed to the teeth with the ideas he wants to convey and has a clear vision of how to do so.

Whether or not the album wins over new Beliebers is yet to be seen.


Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.