Justin Bieber still doesn’t really get the credit he’s earned. The string of celebrity relationships, the bad-boy behavior, the tattoos and ever-evolving hair styles and hues — all these things have had a tendency to distract from the obvious, which is: That boy can sing. He’s a blue-eyed soul stirrer who somehow always has avoided sounding like a white guy trying to pass for black. His R&B tendencies are natural and unforced and, most importantly, never gratuitously flashy. And he’s never sounded better than he does on “Changes,” his fifth studio album.
He’s never felt better, either, from all indications. “Changes” is the sound of a reformed romantic closing the blinds to shut out the world, then spending a long weekend in bed with the object of his affection, coming up with different ways to say “You complete me.” And therein lie its limitations: For as many ways as there are to say “You complete me,” Bieber keeps skimming their surface. His voice and the production are flawless, and his soul is in the right place — but there’s something airless about the album, too, like he could have left the window open a crack to let some sunshine in. For a Valentine’s Day album about love in bloom, it sounds surprisingly serious and dark, with a one-track-mind.
In the decade since Bieber burst onto the scene, the Canadian singer-songwriter has shown demonstrable growth as both a vocalist and a recording artist, never releasing the same album twice. Over the course of five studio sets, including the 2011 holiday collection “Under the Mistletoe,” each new one has sounded entirely different from the one that preceded it. That’s partly because Bieber always has been so in step with the ever-changing pop times that each release has become a sort of sonic time capsule of the era in which it was created.
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