Following the release of the forgettable Changes, widely regarded as Justin Bieber’s weakest album to date, Justice is another in a slew of albums completed during the pandemic period.
However, the album (like its predecessor) has been mired in controversy. This is especially so with Bieber being sent a cease-and-desist notice by French electronic duo Justice over the apparent use of their trademarked “cross” logo days before its release, mirroring controversy during the promotion of Changes over lead single, “Yummy”.
Controversies aside, Justin Bieber’s sixth studio effort is a step in the right direction after 2019’s Changes. This is thanks in no small part to Bieber returning to a more pop-centric sound after his detour into R&B last time out, which yielded poor results overall, as demonstrated by the insufferable “Yummy” (bafflingly nominated for a Grammy Award this year).
Being much more in Bieber’s wheelhouse, Justice comes off much more pleasing to the ear than Changes, varying from the R&B-pop hybrid of “Peaches”, early 80’s new wave on “Die for You”, and the pop rock of “Ghost”. Even the less memorable moments musically (such as “Love You Different”) are at worst inoffensive and would comfortably sound in place in a Spotify shuffle playlist just fine.
However, while Justice is by and large a solid listen musically, there are substantial issues in terms of an album’s concept (or lack of one), which again, bring the album’s title back into the frame.
With the initial promotion of Justice, Bieber described the album as attempting to “provide comfort; to make songs that people can relate to and connect to” while also continuing “the conversation of what justice looks like” as we go through this difficult socio-political period. For an album meant to be centred on the theme of justice, it is shoehorned between two samples from the late Martin Luther King Jr., while all of the album’s sixteen tracks have nothing to do with them.
In fact, the “MLK Interlude”, taken from a rousing 1967 sermon delivered by the civil rights activist on challenging societal norms with moral courage, almost single handedly sinks the album, especially with “Die for You” following it. When most of your album’s cuts are about your wife, and are interspersed with civil rights samples, it comes off as haphazard to include them especially as other than the interlude, and the sample in the opening track “2 Much”, they do not appear anywhere else on the album.
Lyrically, “Lonely” stands out as the sole exception however. It’s quite the moving confessional, which clearly nods to the controversies Bieber found himself in the middle of in the mid 2010s. This is actually quite refreshing from Bieber, and suggests more introspective lyricism going forward, given his previous struggles with fame and mental health (which he seems to have found peace with).
Although it falls completely flat on its face in delivering any significant conceptual statement, Justice does indicate that Justin Bieber has found a semblance of peace, while leaning back on a sound which laid the foundation for some of his most memorable tracks.
Album Highlights: “Die for You”, “Lonely” and “As I Am”.