June 19, 2012 9:45am PT by Erin Carlson
Justin Bieber's 'Believe' Album: What the Critics Are Saying
Do you hear those banshee wails in the distance?
That is the sound of millions of hyperactive teenage girls: yes, Justin Bieber's latest album, Believe, has landed -- and, surprise, it's already No. 1 on iTunes.
It's also a decidedly more mature effort for the 18-year-old Canadian pop prince, who's traded his bubblegum pop persona for an edgier style in the vein of Justin Timberlake post-'N Sync. The 13 tracks include his seductive first single "Boyfriend," the dubstep-heavy "As Long As You Love Me" (featuring rapper Big Sean) and the Motown-influenced "Die In Your Arms."
But if you're not a Biebermaniac, so to speak, you might be wondering: is it any good? Now is the time for a review roundup: the good, the bad and the Beliebers.
"It is a very enjoyable, dance-leaning pop record, but it is not the new Justin Timberlake album," writes Billboard's Jason Lipshutz. "And why should it be? Bieber is still just 18 years old and trying to find his musical lane while grappling with an unprecedented amount of attention. Because his growth in front of the camera has occurred so quickly and steadfastly, his music has been (unfairly) expected to do the same."
Lipshutz says the ballad "Fall" -- which was inspired by the 2002 romantic drama A Walk to Remember -- offers a glimpse at Bieber's potential artistry and "scratches the surface of truly affecting songwriting." As for "Boyfriend" and "Die in Your Arms," those are "undeniable singles," he adds.
"Overall, Believe sinks its tendrils into the listener's brain by riding the dance music phenomenon and offering some whizz-bang production alongside Bieber's sticky-sweet singing voice," he observes. "The lyrics are unfussy and at times too complacent in their rhymes, but the music powers the weaker moments through unnoticed."
Meanwhile, a review by The Associated Press argues that Believe will entice listeners to take the teen heartthrob more seriously thanks to a new maturity and successful collaborations with Drake ("Right Here") and Ludacris ("All Around the World").
"While Bieber channels Timberlake at times, he also has moments inspired by his idol, Michael Jackson," according to the AP. "Bieber samples Jackson’s 'We Got a Good Thing Going' for the nicely done, R&B-tinged 'Die In Your Arms,' and there’s also a bonus track 'Maria,' a song about Mariah Yeater, the woman who falsely claimed Bieber fathered her child. The song recalls 'Billie Jean,' and it’s clever and amusing."
Rolling Stone's Jon Dolan gives Believe three out of five stars, writing: "Bieber doesn't have the soulful vocal snaps of a Justin Timberlake or the shock-and-awe charisma of a Britney Spears. His gently sparkling persona can get overwhelmed by all the sonic gear-switching, technological tomfoolery and sweaty come-ons; it can all feel a bit rushed."
Dolan thinks Bieber's "recently legal euphemisms" lack smoothless and that he croons "somewhat ickily" on "Fall," particularly on the lyrics: "If you spread your wings, you can fly away with me."
In his opinion, Believe's best track is the pleading "Thought of You," which "has it both ways, combining the impulse to wait with the impulse to get down into a pure-pop fever dream. ... It's the moment where Justin lives most honestly in the swag-and fondue-deprived world of his fans – crushed out to the point of asphyxiation, pulled in a million directions, chasing feelings he can't understand to consequences he'll probably regret. It's where he's a kid again."