REVIEW: Justin Bieber’s “Purpose” On First Listen

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Hello, it’s me.

Just kidding, the Adele joke is already overdone. But yes, I, thee Ross Lohan, am returning to my abandoned blog to do a ‘first listen’ ‘live blog’ thing of Justin Bieber‘s new album Purpose.

I did this for Taylor Swift‘s 1989 album last year because it was, against my will, the biggest album release of the year and so it made sense to me to do the same thing for 2015’s big moment (sorry, 25.)

The problematic-yet-talented Biebs has been on a winning streak this year releasing hit-after-hit since the lovely Jack Ü collaboration Where Are Ü Now dropped back in February.

His mainstream return has been carefully calculated with his “bad-boy” reputation given the all clear after a Comedy Central Roast, appearing on The Ellen Show more times than one would wish for and the singer just generally being low-key (until the dick pics, storming off stage in Norway and flipping a chair at a French restaurant, but we’ll just ignore that and move on.)

Although, the obviously strategic image overhaul and good boy shtick only worked because it’s been accompanied by some absolute belter (translation: Bangerz) songs that have been good enough to let the music take the forefront.

Now without further ado, let’s play Purpose and pray it’s all as good as Sorry.

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1. Mark My Words

Justin already confirmed this one’s about his ex Selena Gomez and it’s fairly obvious, as the lyrics read like an old diary entry of when he realised their relationship was over and done with. “Falling in and out of trust / Trying to rekindle us / Only to lose yourself, and I won’t let me lose you.” His voice sounds good but the production is built around a really whiny vocal sample of him singing “No-no-no, n-n-no, n-n-n-nOO” but it’s more an intro than a full song so I’ll deal with it.

2. I’ll Show You

“Don’t forget that I’m human / Don’t forget that I’m real.” I wouldn’t say this is his Fergie – Glamorous moment because this reflection of fame is less about the flossy-flossy and surprisingly introspective, as he opens up about those few dodgy years he had and reminds everyone that he’s a person. It’s a nice sentiment and rather well executed over Skrillex‘s moody production.

3. What Do You Mean?

WHAT. A. SONG. One 30-day countdown and almost 3 months later and I still can’t resist those bouncy tropical beats. I’m glad it’s time for this one because those first two were a bit dull. Kudos to Bieber for realising the best songs are those built around a clock ticking (cc: Hung UpWhat You Waiting For?)

4. Sorry

The second I hear the “Oh-oh-oh” vocal sample my mood improves by at least 80%. Every part of this song is absolute pop perfection and everyone else should take a seat and learn from this. God, I want to be one of the dancers in the video.

5. Love Yourself

“The one he did with Ed Sheeran” is what everyone will call this. Bieber comes full circle back to his YouTube cover days with this guitar-and-mic sing-a-long, which funnily enough sounds like he’s covering an Ed Sheeran song. (Listen out for his best English accent on the word “job.”) Still, it’s a friendly reminder of why he became famous in the first place.

6. Company

Oh, yes please. This groovy little number is a welcome R&B affair with a brilliant mini-drop after the chorus. Lyrically, he’s begging me to keep him company and I wouldn’t usually be so willing but the song was too good to say no.

7. No Pressure ft. Big Sean

Returning to the guitar-assisted R&B sound of his 2013 album Journals, this is essentially an open letter to Selena as he confesses his hopes that time will heal the scars and that she’ll return to him one day. Definitely the strongest of the slow stuff so far (more of an R&B ~slow jam~ than a ballad tho) and reminder to everyone that the 21-year-old is equally good in the R&B lane as the pop stuff.

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8. No Sense ft. Travi$ Scott

Slightly meatier production here but Justin’s still focused on the one girl (I’m 100% sure he’s been with more than just Selena, though?) because love just isn’t the same without her. It’s not a bad song, just very repetitive and feels a bit more of the same – Travi$‘ verse was the best part.

9. The Feeling ft. Halsey

I have to put my thoughts on Halsey to the side for now because The Feeling is a really solid, occasionally great pop ballad. Their voices work extremely well together, the production is brilliant and the pre-chorus is the rare kind of good when you really wish it was the real chorus.

10. Life Is Worth Living

Bieber’s voice takes centre stage on this piano-led ballad where he frankly addresses and buries his fuck-ups to move on. “I’m not perfect, won’t deny it / My reputation’s on the line, I’m working on a better me.” What could have been a very forced and cliche song surprisingly comes off as sincere and one of the most vulnerable, yet empowering, moments of the album.

11. Where Are Ü Now ft. Jack Ü

The song that started it all – still sounds as fresh and brilliant as it did 6 months ago.

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12. Children ft. Skrillex

One of the most surprising moments of the album as the subject of the future widens beyond Bieber’s love life, and he encourages our generation to make changes for the better for, I guess, our “children.” Again – just like Life Is Worth Living – he somehow avoids being cliche and convincingly pulls off a song about social progression. Skrillex’s production is probably the saving grace for that, as Justin sings his message over a pounding build-up that bursts into a synth-sphere; production-wise this is probably the biggest tune of the lot. Definitely Vogue-able.

13. Purpose

Honestly, if this came on shuffle I could mistake its opening for a High School Musical song. That’s not shade (the third soundtrack is truly incredible) but it’s also probably not the kind of review Bieber’s expecting. Basically, this is the song equivalent to his interviews on The Ellen Show earlier this year. He sings about his tears, the fans and rediscovering his purpose over a solo piano before a spoken outro finishes off the album. I believe everything he’s saying – and it’s quite heartwarming actually – but there’s a way of doing it without the cheese being extra mature.

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And that’s Purpose! Well the standard edition at least (there’s 21 songs in total across the deluxe editions.)

Overall, it’s a great pop album and certainly one of the strongest of 2015. We all knew it was going to be a retrospective record following the past few years but its surprisingly honest and, for the most part, well executed. While some moments are more exciting than others, there aren’t any real duds weighing it down and its to his credit that he managed to pull off two could-be cringeworthy tracks and instead make them standouts.

The intention was to make it about the music again and there’s more than enough good material here to make that happen, and with writing credits on every song Justin should be applauded for that.

HIGHLIGHTS: Sorry, Children, No Pressure, Company

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