Before embarking upon a listening session for Justin Bieber's 'Believe', ask yourself one question: 'What is it, exactly, that I like about Justin Bieber?' Once you have answered that question, your response will inform the way in which you listen to and respond to Justin's latest album release, 'Believe Acoustic'. It will determine whether or not you should purchase this album through legitimate means, rip it from a friend's collection or simply deny its very existence. If you're honest enough with yourself, your answer to that question may even go so far as to inform the way you live your life, your future relationships and possibly even the manner in which you finally die. For now, though, let's focus on the album.
Perhaps you like Justin Bieber because of his vocal talents; his reedy falsetto, his well-trained vocal acrobatics, the softness of his voice, as he croons sweet nothings into the studio mic. If that's the case, you'll probably purchase this album. It's got all of that on display, way up in the mix, prominent as hell. Perhaps you just like the songs that Bieber creates with his myriad of faceless songwriters? Well, you know. There's, like, 11 of those songs there. Most of them, you'll have heard before of course, because this is an acoustic version of Bieber's 'Believe' album, as the title suggests. There are, however, three songs that aren't on the preceding album, thus giving you a little extra for your money. You too, will feel compelled to purchase this album.
If the thing that you love most about Bieber is just. the whole 'Bieber' thing - the hair, the eyes, the clothes, the 'package', the whole damned brand then frankly, Bieber's marketing team have already got you, hook, line and sinker. Of course, you'll be rushing out to buy this album. And that, in a nutshell is why everyone that doesn't fall into those three categories is eyeing this release suspiciously, eyebrows arched, and muttering about it being a cash cow. Of course it's a cash cow. It's nothing more than a needless interim release. Bieber could have given these tracks away for free as a treat to his fans if he'd really wanted to. But there's no income stream in saying 'thanks for sticking by me whilst I royally trounce my own squeaky rep by acting like a spoilt rich kid.' So here we have 'Believe Acoustic'.
It's worth noting (or not, depending on where you fall in those three categories above), that the tracklisting of this album does not duplicate or follow that of the original. So, it opens with 'Boyfriend,' just a few rounded plucks on the guitar strings and he's heavy breathing into the mic "yyyyeeeaaaah. listen," like one of those phone calls that you're supposed to hang up on straight away, after shouting "how did you get my number!?" The breathy 'come to bed' vocals continue throughout the track. Rather than the 'cocky little womanizer' persona that he opted for in the original version, with its rooftop video shoot, he goes for vulnerability, tries to make you weak at the knees with empathy rather than lust.
You'd think that ripping out all the costly production from a Bieber song would render it pointless, wouldn't you? In some instances, that's certainly the case. Surprisingly though, others work better without the time-consuming and expensive embellishments of a full studio sound (not that this acoustic album was knocked up with a couple of tin cans on string in someone's garage, of course). 'As Long As You Love Me' actually works better as an acoustic track than it does with full production. The kid can sing, you know? In between all that humping and thrusting and peering out from under his own enviably long eyelashes, he can really sing. Same goes for 'Beauty & A Beat.' There's no Nicki Minaj, sure. There's no Euro-pop synths, there's no not-as-subtle-as-you-thought-it-was auto-tune. In fact, there's very little that made the original song what it was. But, under the unnecessary gasping and throaty rasping that he does to cover up the gaps where all the whooshing synths should be, it just, sort of. works. It's all meaningless dross, of course, unlikely to change your philosophical perspective on the world around you. But it works. Who knew?
Not every track hits the mark though. Take away those musical flashes and 'experimental' percussion and 'She Don't Like The Lights' sounds more like a teenage boy's difficulties with dating an epileptic girlfriend than it does a famous teenage boy's struggle with dating a famous girlfriend. Furthermore, you take all the smooth drumbeats and electronic embellishments off 'Take You' and it is an 18 year-old boy suggesting that you might like to be his "little lady." It's hard to ignore when there's nothing else to train your ears on and, frankly, it's creepy.
As for the extra tracks, there's one about a yellow raincoat (he likes to wear it when the weather's bad - sounds sensible), another, 'I Would,' is probably the most heavily effected song on the album; the closest he comes to dismantling the whole premise of this being an 'acoustic' album; but who cares as long as he's still warbling archaic pillow talk at us, right? 'Nothing Like Us' is a soppy, piano-led ballad that's probably supposed to make us feel sorry for him in the wake of split from Selena Gomez. Sadly for Justin, one song can't outweigh a thousand TMZ reports painting him as the bad guy.
Now. Ask yourself again: What exactly is it that you like about Justin Bieber? OK. Go forth and purchase. You're weak. It's inevitable.
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