Everybody tries really hard to be polite on Justin Bieber’s new album, “Complete My Journals.” Even the rappers behave. Everybody is very invested in pretending that Bieber is still the downy-faced, “hey, girl”-ing Ryan Gosling look-alike he once was, instead of the neighbor-terrorizing, brothel-frequenting Charlie Sheen he’s turned out to be.
If Bieber were Justin Timberlake or Usher — his most obvious career models — the music would be the only thing that mattered. But Bieber’s music has always been incidental, existing only as a means to deliver faux-proximity to Bieber, as consequential a piece of merchandise as the Justin Bieber Boyfriend Singing Doll ($24.95 at his official store) or the Justin Bieber Singing Toothbrush ($14.95).
Bieber has never delivered a genuinely memorable song. (By the same point in her career, Miley Cyrus, who hadn’t yet seized adulthood by the throat, had served up two or three.) But he never needed to be good, only believable. The gulf between the fantasy Justin Bieber and the real one now appears insurmountable, but no one near the singer seems ready to admit this.
“Complete My Journals” could have been his “Bangerz,” a first, tentative admission that Bieber is a grown-up who likes to party and sometimes have sex. Instead, it’s nothing more than a last-ditch grab at the wallets of fleeing Beliebers.
Available only two weeks through iTunes, “Complete My Journals” is a compilation made mostly of songs from Bieber’s “Music Mondays,” a modestly received weekly download series, plus several previously unavailable tracks and some videos.
It’s divided between Auto-Tuned R&B jams and, to a lesser extent, livelier hip-hop/pop tracks featuring rappers such as Future and Lil Wayne. The slower songs are mournful and full of regret, and though their lyrics are aimed (at least, we’re encouraged to think) at ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez, they artfully double as apologies to Bieber’s fans for his year of living brattily.
“First I’ll acknowledge / Your trust has been broken,” he sings on “Recovery,” a rapid-fire R&B ballad that’s one of the collection’s best offerings. “Change Me” is a puerile piece of fan-fic bait: “Maybe you could be the light that opens up my eyes,” sings Bieber, in a tone that suggests he really doesn’t think so. He also provides a list of qualities he prefers in a potential mate (those with self-esteem need not apply): “If I’m screaming / Talk quieter / Understanding and patience / Feel the pain that I’m facing.”
“No sympathy / ’Cause I was out of line,” he sings on “Bad Day,” one of the few songs in which he seems to take any real interest. Bieber may be the only person involved who senses that “Journals” is exactly the wrong project, that it’s unctuous and insincere and, worst of all, lacking in great material. To his credit, he seems unable to fake much remorse.
The club tracks are better: “Memphis” is a small-scale banger with a Big Sean feature; “Roller Coaster” is disco-funk, gingerly done; Chance the Rapper rescues “Confident,” one of the album’s few rattlers.
“PYD” is a double-entendre-heavy, underwater slow jam featuring R. Kelly, who serves two functions: He suggests a possible path to adulthood for the now-19-year-old, who has the voice for R-rated bedroom funk, if not the necessary experience. And he makes Bieber’s 2013 transgressions seem like an afternoon in church.
Stewart is a freelance writer.