Justin Bieber has been away for a while. His last album, the earworm stuffed, electro-R&B tinged ‘Purpose’ came out in 2015, and since he wrapped the world tour in support of it in 2017, he’s taken somewhat of a step back. There’s been the occasional release – with the world-beating ‘Despacito’ and his collab with BloodPop ‘Friends’ – and a handful of live appearances, but in general Bieber has purposefully avoided the spotlight.
Gone are the days of altercations with paparazzi and DUIs, and instead Bieber took a step back from the public eye. Settling down with Hailey Baldwin and getting married, he officially announced a break in from music to fix “deep rooted issues” in early 2019. It was perhaps for the best, too. A decade in the spotlight at that age rarely ends well.
And for a few months it looked like we’d never see album number five from Bieber, as he settled into domestic bliss with his wife. But an appearance with Ariana Grande at Coachella later in the year prompted Bieber to head back to the studio and start working on new material. And now, years on from ‘Purpose’, Biebs is back.
‘Changes’, Bieber explained at a playback of the record in London a few days before its release, is “super dedicated to his wife”. His marriage permeates the album, with most of the songs clearly being written about their relationship – you have to imagine a Valentine’s Day release was carefully chosen. This is sweet, but only in doses. ‘Forever’ is, unsurprisingly, about wanting to be with his spouse for life, as “the thought of being with my wife forever gives me chills”. The jangly cut features Post Malone and up-and-coming rapper Clever; but despite starting with upbeat production and warm, nostalgic beats, it begins to drag, before stuttering to a stop.
And then there’s ‘Take It Out on Me’, which Bieber explained is him letting his wife know that (in his own words at the recent playback) “whatever happens [in life] she can take it out on me…in the sack, you know what I mean?”. With the pounding bassline that sounds like it could have been on Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’, and more washy production, it feels dated and claggy. Bieber really, really wants you to know that he’s had sex.
This is a recurring problem throughout ‘Changes’, which is filled with mostly sub-three-minute tracks that open pleasantly but fail to keep the momentum. The results are tunes that finish abruptly, flag, or feel like interludes. Opener ‘All Around Me’ acts as an introduction but is about sixty seconds too long and finishes with the sound of a baby cooing. The repetitive ‘Come Around Me’ finally feels like it’s found some direction towards the end when powerful piano chords and The Weeknd-flecked melodies start, that is until the song tersely ends.
Throughout the record relies on the same production of pounding bass and icy synths; this gets tiresome quickly. It’s particularly exasperating, as last album ‘Purpose’ was a unique offering, filled with catchy hooks, personality and proving that Bieber could not only hit all the notes, but also be innovative. Songs like ‘Sorry’ and ‘What Do You Mean?’ and ‘Love Yourself’ were glittering smash hits that soared up the charts and influenced the next wave of pop; but there’s rarely anything on ‘Changes’ that compares to this.
There are brief glimpses of what made ‘Purpose’ so brilliant. On ‘At Least for Now’, the record’s Tracy Chapman-inspired closer, there’s euphoric ‘Mylo Xyloto’-era Coldplay style production; but frustratingly this glorious soundscape never reaches the banging chorus you want it to. ‘That’s What Love Is’ sounds like old school Bieber, with his delicate falsetto flying over jangly acoustic guitars; with the lack of bass heavy production making this a record highlight.
Lyrically, it’s filled with pseudo-intelligent babble. Lead single ‘Yummy’ features a chorus of “Yeah, you got that yummy, yum/That yummy, yum”, as well as lyrics like: “Bonafide stallion/You ain’t in no stable, no, you stay on the run”. iPhone love song ‘E.T.A.’ includes the line “before you gotta go/Drop a pin for me now/So I can learn your location/Thank you, yes, your less than five minutes away”, whilst Kehlani team up ‘Get Me’ boasts the couplet: “Ooh, there’s so much chemistry/Like a chemist, how you finishing my sentences”. Pop songs don’t have to be pure poetry, but it’s nice when they have a little substance.
‘Changes’ is a knackering listen. Overly reliant on trendy production and profound(ish) romantic proclamations, it’s a disappointing comeback from an artist who has a track record in creating hits. It may be an album filled with sex jams and lovelorn lyrics, but sadly this is one romp that never reaches climax.
Release date: February 14, 2020
Record label: Def Jam/RBMG