Justin Bieber 'Believe' (Island)
In March, Justin Bieber turned 18. Now the world expects him to do his own laundry, apply for his own credit cards and release more ambitious pop albums.
But instead of sounding grown up, his new album, "Believe," merely sounds big. Stocked with shiny, bloated, dance-floor-friendly beats, it's the humongous album of the summer that should be impossible to ignore and easy to forget.
That won't surprise anyone who wrote the kid off as a haircut. But if you were listening close in 2009 -- when the heartthrob was sparking his first shopping mall riots -- you could hear a precocious, mischievous R&B singer developing beneath that golden shag. He sang his 15-year-old lungs out with a smidge of attitude.
With "Believe," his promise continues to slip away. Instead of battling for a meaningful spot in the great American pop narrative, he retreats to his heartthrob DMZ, trying to make you love him by singing about how much he loves you, girl.
Unlike Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake, Justin hasn't figured out how to navigate the rhythms being thrown at him. Even at his most agile, during the stammering beats and blips of "Take You," he sounds relatively flat-footed.
"I'm just trying to make a little conversation," he flirts vapidly. "Why the hesitation?/Tell me what your name is." When the thumpity-thumping chorus arrives, his voice doesn't surge into the moment. It deflates.
He fares better on the splashy opening cut, "All Around the World," by shifting into cruise control, letting the song's bouncy Euro-house beat provide the charm. Riding shotgun, rapper Ludacris finds a way to lose a little more dignity with his cameo verse: "I love everything about you / You're imperfectly perfect / Everyone's itching for beauty / But you're scratching the surface."
Other rappers who materialize throughout the album's 16 tracks -- Drake, Nicki Minaj, Big Sean -- sound like they've shown up to lend their cred, spit their verses, collect their checks and go hide somewhere.
-- Chris Richards, The Washington Post
ALSO NEW THIS WEEK
"Fiona Apple, "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw.": It's hard to make a way into a record that works so hard to keep you out. Ms. Apple's records have always required a handful of listens in order to become engulfed in her thick molasses-like wondrousness, however, "The Idler Wheel" seems to require far too many listens to really reach that 'viola!' moment. There simply isn't enough variation on the record to grasp on to those tracks that leave the listener unsettled. And while half the album is quite inspired, the other half is just too bizarre and atypical to warm up to. (Enio Chiola)
The Smashing Pumpkins, "Oceania": Although "Oceania" will be plagued with comparisons of past efforts -- a fair tactic given the Smashing Pumpkins' relevance in the rock scene and unabashed public disbanding and rebanding -- Billy Corgan is impressively pulling this "new" version of the Pumpkins into an interesting direction. "Oceania" is definitely not without its faults, but with repeated listens and an honest approach to the metrics and themes Mr. Corgan's hitting, this rhizomed Pumpkins reboot will dispel your notions that the Pumpkins can't exist without its other three founding members. (Enio Chiola)
Neneh Cherry & The Thing, "Cherry Thing": "The Cherry Thing" is a marvelous album. The Thing (one Swede and two Norwegians) formed in Sweden and is a free jazz trio, named after a track by Don Cherry (her stepdad), and who openly state the influence of the great man on their music. Some things are meant to be. This is one of them. This is vital. (Jez Collins)
Other notable releases this week: Kenny Chesney, "Welcome to the Fishbowl"; Delta Rae, "Carry the Fire"; Glen Hansard, "Rhythm and Repose."