After the misfire that was his last album, Bieber is back with a new and mature outlook on life
Justin Bieber’s 2020 album, Changes, was a misnomer. The title suggested the embattled pop star had undergone some kind of revelatory experience. In reality, the record was a self-indulgent snapshot of his newly married life, offering little to suggest he had grown as an artist. What a shock it is, then, to hear such a turnaround after just 12 months.
Justice, which the 27-year-old announced just a few weeks before its scheduled release date, sees Bieber digging deeper to examine his feelings for his wife, Hailey Bieber, but also his own past. Any hint of self-pity or saccharine sentiment has been left in the dust. Biebs has grown up.
The musicianship in these new songs holds a mirror to this newfound maturity. Tinny hip-hop beats and oversaturated synths have been replaced with funky guitar grooves and tight percussion. Bieber seems determined to move past his R&B-lite sound and spend more time with classic songwriters. The pacy single “Hold On” flirts with a Fleetwood Mac-style bassline and Eighties riffs, while “Ghost” intersperses the acoustic guitar with a more dance-friendly beat. Elsewhere, “Off My Face” makes a gentlemanly tip-of-the-hat to Simon and Garfunkel with its “Mrs Robinson” “ooh ooh oohs”.
The collaborations, too, have been selected with greater care. Bieber teams up with Florida rapper Dominic Fike on the infectious “Die For You”, the musical lovechild of The Weeknd and Bruno Mars. Album highlight “Peaches” is magnificent, opening on what sounds like a battered upright piano before coming into full bloom with leisurely guitar licks and sultry croons from R&B artists Daniel Caesar and Giveon. “Love You Different” emulates the polished production of his 2015 album, Purpose.
With such a supple voice, Bieber has often run the risk of squeezing the emotion out of a song. This happened on Changes, so that lyrically over-the-top declarations of love sounded about as romantic as a quickie in a public toilet. But Bieber no longer sounds like he’s just singing for the sake of it. Single “Lonely” sees him drop his register from its comfort zone to accompany the reverberating keyboard. His voice cracks at the refrain, as though he’s revisiting the pain of his most tumultuous years in the spotlight. It’s been just over a year since Bieber released his worst album. He’s returned with his best.