Justin Bieber is a pop evangelical. Faith has always played a big role in his life – sometimes bigger than others – but the past 18 months has seen interviews and public appearances marked by an up-front willingness to project the religious aspects that seemingly dominate his thinking.
‘Justice’ – with its ‘t’ shaped like a crucifix – is part of this, but it also links to an ongoing aesthetic evolution with Bieber’s stadium-dominated trop-pop. Since 2015’s ‘Purpose’ pushed the Canadian born icon into a new realm, he’s been engaged in cross-genre conversation. As a result, ‘Justice’ moves from hip-hop to slick Billboard pop and beyond, making for an experience dominated by a few epic highs but slightly lacking coherence overall.
‘Holy’ – featuring Chance the Rapper – is already a global smash, and acts as a microcosm for the album as a whole. Personal experiences – growing up and learning to accept responsibilities – are framed within Christian beliefs and ideologies, but at the centre is a stellar pop song. ‘Lonely’ meanwhile pins down the emptiness in fame, albeit in a slightly mawkish, self-indulgent fashion.
Mega-hit ‘Hold On’ deals with the consequences of your actions, while ‘Anyone’ speaks of the redemptive powers of love. Indeed, love dominates the record – whether personal or spiritual, it sits behind the first and last note on Bieber’s song cycle.
Out-with the proselytizing, however, ‘Justice’ can become a repetitive experience. At 16 tracks it feels a little overlong, in spite of the shrewd nature of its programming. The interlude – a preacher (Dr Martin Luther King), naturally – provides a natural break, while the array of guests is both finely curated and evenly spread out. Burna Boy lights up ‘Loved By You’ – there’s the ‘l’ word again – while Daniel Caesar and Giveon supply a soulful touch to ‘Peaches’.
As impressive as these peaks are, there’s little to place ‘Justice’ out-with the universe sketched out on previous album ‘Seasons’, however. A work of subtle progression, its evangelical appeal is dimmed by the familiarity of those colossal singles. As fuel for the continuation of Justin Bieber’s mission, however, there’s much here to reaffirm your faith.
Words: Robin Murray
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