Justin Bieber’s ‘Purpose’: SPIN’s Impulsive Reviews
The SPIN staff offers initial thoughts on 2015's most talked-about comeback album
On Wednesday, Justin Bieber’s highly anticipated Purpose leaked online. Today, SPIN staffers and contributors are doing the only responsible thing: rushing to snap judgements and publishing their impulsive reviews.
Harley Brown: Any Purpose track Skrillex had a hand in sweeps through a spectrum of voice-like yelps and ululations; more contemporary iterations of the “ethnic electronica” popularized by early-’90s projects like Deep Forest, they’re just as viscerally appealing. That somewhat problematic etymology aside, Sonny Moore is the only credited producer capable of yanking Justin Bieber up from his painfully kneeling position on the album’s mewling, milquetoast ballads. “I’ll Show You” sways back and forth on the gentler waves of Skrillex’s depth-charging bass rolls, while “Sorry” porpoises ecstatically on a reggaeton rhythm and brassy horn bleats, and his bonus tracks are just as redeeming. One of them, “Hit the Ground,” too liberally borrows the tick-tocks from “What Do You Mean?” and too closely mimics EDM’s most basic formula of builds and drops, but Purpose would be much more listenable — more dance-y sinew, less tremulous repentance — if it were made up entirely of Skrillex productions.
Early Score: 5/10
Brennan Carley: Purpose is a product of the song-machine system in the best sense of the word; it makes sense that an extravagantly staged comeback finds itself tied to strings controlled by pop’s New Elite, including Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels, Blood, the Monsters and the Strangerz, and Axident. It’s such a well-plotted batch of songs that rumored production from Kanye West and Rick Rubin didn’t make the cut. Bieber leans fully into the genre’s future while simultaneously embracing and repurposing the high-def gloss-n-polish of modern pop, particularly on Jack Ü’s oft-discussed whistle-blower “Where Are U Now” and the triumphant Grecian sunrise that is the mid-album highlight, “Company.” People are quick to remove the 21-year-old’s agency from the equation; it’s a course Bieber himself has tried to correct in recent interviews, sending his newest collaborator-in-crime, Poo Bear, out on his behalf to speak to his behind-the-scenes abilities. True, the kid shares a co-write on every Purpose track, but the 13-song set’s saving grace lies with the seamstresses who thread its pieces together.
Early Score: 8/10
Rachel Brodsky: Against all odds, shirtless selfies, illegal monkeys, and bucket-pissing, Purpose has Justin Bieber making his most surprising headline: getting adults to want to listen to a Justin Bieber album in 2015. The first thing to know is that, in response to his primate- and urine-related transgressions (among other things — *cough* Selena Gomez *cough*), there’s an overabundance of God-thanking in his Believe follow-up (and let us not forget his self-pitying, in-betweener Journals compilation from 2013). But the figure to whom Bieber owes the most credit is Skrillex, who manned the boards for this effort’s most indelible jams. Songs like the neon-splashed “I’ll Show You,” “Sorry,” and the pleading “Where Are Ü Now,” bring Purpose’s most transcendent moments. And while they don’t come with a Skrillex stamp, the bump’n’b cut “Company” and the tick-tocking “What Do You Mean?” swiftly follow in the dubstep deity’s sonic stead. That said, nobody likes an over-apologizer (at least that’s what I keep reading). In its slower, trying-to-be-poignant moments, Purpose immediately comes off as overly contrite, Axe-scented mush (looking at you, “Life Is Worth Living”). We get that you’re “Sorry,” JB. Just don’t make us sorry we forgave you.
Early Score: 6/10
James Grebey: Justin Bieber, this album confirms, is a tool in more ways than one. His annoying antics stopped being the (sole) focus of attention when he met a producer who knew how to use his angelic voice for ethereal bangers. Skrillex gets this guy, and Purpose works when he has his way with Bieber, using the singer’s pipes and limited pathos as a beautiful, musical dolphin call amidst “Children”’s bright EDM synths. “What Do You Mean?,” while not a Skrillex number, is definitely aping the same sonic palate as “Where Are Ü Now,” and “The Feeling” takes the same route of using Biebs as a point of clarity in a mystic, energetic soundscape. But when there’s no spark — which is the case in about half the album — the songs sag, as Bieber’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-style atonement leads to samey snoozers (see: the title track). The dirtbag behavior was fun to watch; the weirdly Jesus-y apologies are boring. Luckily, the LP’s thrilling highs are mostly worth sitting through the apologies for Bieber’s lows.
Early Score: 6/10
Eve Barlow: When Justin Bieber dropped “What Do You Mean?” this year, I was already running around the Internet screaming, “What do you mean you’re not a Justin Bieber fan?” It’s true: 2015 is the year I became a “Belieber,” all thanks to the super catchy reinvention of someone I previously gave zero f**ks about. When Diplo and Skrillex created the Jack Ü moniker and launched “Where Are Ü Now” featuring Bieber’s baby-angel vocals, I’d suddenly found my No. 1 track of 2015, against every single odd. You could say that Purpose is my most anticipated release of the year, particularly following the VMA performance where Bieber flew through the air and threw down the moves like it was 1999 at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House. In the two aforementioned singles and the latest official single, “Sorry,” Bieber’s created a bulletproof unique genre I’ve taken to call “Lion King goes to Electric Daisy Carnival.” Fortunately Purpose continues in that same sonic vein. But like a full-length feature, most of the best bits have already been sold in the teaser trailer. Scale the album back by half and it could have been a knockout.
Early Score: 7/10
Dan Weiss: Justin Bieber can sing and dance and take good photos and cry on command; so can people you went to school with. He’s a classic puppet, silly putty in Skrillex’s hands, and the best thing about his breathy “soul” vocals is they know how to stay out of the pan flute’s way. This exchange of commerce and cool has given them both second careers. But Bieber isn’t MJ, so Sonny Moore declined to be Quincy Jones and produce all of Purpose. It’s still Bieber’s most listenable album by default: “What Do You Mean?” and “Sorry” and “The Feeling” all took that giant crossover leap because, deep down, the populace actually demands quality. The gospel-kumbaya “Love Yourself” is a hilarious setup for a middle finger. He needs “Where Are Ü Now” a lot more than his producers do, and it could’ve used the bonus “Hit the Ground,” too. The rest — solid passes at EDM, blasé tearjerkers — will be discarded with the sands of time. Who knew classic hits-and-filler jobs would continue well into the Spotify era?
Early Score: 6/10
Colin Joyce: Lost in the narrative of Justin Bieber’s hat-in-hand return to the radiowaves — replete with a tearful VMAs performance — is just how gleefully petty even his apologies can be. He picks up the abandonment themes of “Where Are Ü Now” on the Ed Sheeran co-write “Love Yourself,” and you get the sense that were it not for the rest of the record’s overarching religiosity he might have titled the song with a different four letter word. He’s spent the last few years in the wilderness, publicly battling the dark sides of celebrity culture and youthful hubris on the world’s stage. So, yeah, he needed to go on record with a few mea culpas, but any residual bitterness feels deserved. Pop’s presumed petulant boy-king is back on bended knee. But before you think that he’s down there for repentance and supplication — to offer a meek “Sorry” — know that he’s probably tying your shoes together too.
Early Score: 7/10
AVERAGE SCORE: 6.43