Justin Bieber, "Believe" (Island) -- The marketing mantra, now that our lil' Beebs has turned 18, is that Justin Bieber's sophomore album, "Believe," showcases his manhood. That is, "We're clearly seeing a more mature record this time around," Mike Posner, producer of the album's first single, "Boyfriend," told Billboard magazine last week. Grown up, not pin-up, yesiree.
He spells "M" ... "A," child ...
Mannish boy, indeed.
On "Believe" -- his second proper album, after the debut's acoustic reboot, the remixes, the movie and the Christmas album -- Bieber wants to "see you work it, girl" and, girl, he can "feel your body rock," but his romantic metaphors are still toy stories ("I could be your Buzz Lightyear") and he has precious teen-boy notions of what constitutes a romantic evening, which are made exponentially hilarious by the way he raps them ("chillin' by the fire while we eatin' fondue"). "They say we're too young for love," he bemoans, but he has no intention to back off. In "Beauty and a Beat," he and Nicki Minaj are "gonna party like it's 3012 tonight" (so, what, you had to trump Prince by a whole millennium?), which includes some dissing of Bieber's girlfriends; over the thumping dancefloor beats, Minaj rhymes the word "weiner" with her sly aside: "Gotta keep an eye out for Selener" (i.e., Bieber's main squeeze, fellow young singer Selena Gomez).
The hormones roil but never quite boil in this set of safe but spot-on dance-pop. Despite the fact that the 13 songs are crafted by 18 separate producers (and I won't even attempt a count of the dozens of writers), the album's flow is mostly steady. What has definitely matured is Bieber's voice. When he's not feeling the peer pressure of the album's other guest rappers (Drake, Big Sean, Ludacris) to go all mushy mouthed, his breathy yearning actually toes a line or two drawn by his idol, Michael Jackson. The ohs and ahs over the techno whomps of "All Around the World," the falsetto la-las from "As Long as You Love Me" -- it's Bieber fishing for an affectation like Jacko's trademark hee-hee; it's certainly not dangerous, but neither is it bad. More importantly, Bieber nails his ballads. The middle of the album showcases his voice best -- the breezy reverie and Christmasy sing-song of "Catching Feelings," the big swaying Hanson-esque harmonies of "Fall" and the Jackson-sampling "Die in Your Arms." The material is pretty vacuous, but the expected simplicity and sweetness has just a tad more tang.
Man or boy, he still drives the girls wild. Last week, on a promo tour for the album, he performed for 300,000 in Mexico City. The week before that, tickets for his four-month world tour later this year went on sale and sold out -- all of them, every ticket, every show -- in an hour. (He's here Oct. 23-24 at the Allstate Arena.) Take that, One Direction.