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Justin Bieber performs at a free open-air concert at Zocalo Square in Mexico City June 11, 2012. (HENRY ROMERO/Reuters)
Justin Bieber performs at a free open-air concert at Zocalo Square in Mexico City June 11, 2012. (HENRY ROMERO/Reuters)

Music

Disc of the Week: Justin Bieber, pop zombie Add to ...

  • Title Believe
  • Artist Justin Bieber
  • Label Island Def Jam/Universal
  • Genre pop
  • Rating 1.5/4
  • Year 2012

More than two dozen producers worked on this record. I would guess that fewer people have a hand in an open-heart surgery. The heart is worth mentioning when talking about Bieber’s latest record, because most of the 16 songs are about the yearnings of this organ. Our hero waits by the phone, or pleads at the door, or dreams about still loving if he were really poor, and all for the sake of his hungry heart.

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The object of all this heartfulness is pretty vague. She needs to be wooed, that’s all we know. If we’re feeling optimistic about our hero’s chances, we have to hope she goes for guys with a low pulse rate, because there’s not much heart in Bieber’s tune-slinging about love. His voice has been smoothed, Auto-Tuned and conditioned to such a pale and lifeless standard, it makes Bruno Mars seem as wild as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

This is what pop stardom looks like in 2012: You climb the slippery pole while still in your teens, get 22 million followers to read your tweets, and sell out your whole North American tour in an hour. Your handlers respond by draining your vital fluids and injecting liquid nylon. It’s that hyper-synthetic radio sound, and there seems to be no escape for the likes of Bieber.

The songs cover a wide span of styles, from the thumping dance-pop of All Around the World (which recalls Britney’s Till the World Ends) to the dub-steppish As Long as You Love Me and the gritless, Brazilian-flavoured MOR balladry of Catching Feelings.

The process is so homogenizing that even when a pal (Drake) comes in for a duet, he ends up sounding pretty much like Bieber.

One could cite the old saw about too many cooks. But that implies that the broth was ruined by conflicting efforts, and that there was only one broth. Few of the 16 broths at Bieber’s table were handled by the same people, yet he sounds like a pop zombie in every one.

But those healers only try to preserve the living. Bieber’s helpmates had a harder task: to drain the life out of something, then reanimate it in synthetic form.

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