(Def Jam **)
nolead ends It's pretty tough to deny the power of Justin Bieber (or at least of his singles). The August-released "What Do You Mean?" is an earworm that became as immediately ubiquitous as Adele's "Hello." And "Sorry," with its tropicalia and house flavors mashup, has just as much potential for suffocation. Purpose also houses "Where Are U Now," the Skrillex and Diplo moment with Justin, which pounds out an intoxicating beat and playfully sound-tracks montages and memory reels. Purpose is a strategic and concerted effort to adultify Bieber. Come to think, Journals of 2013 tried to do the same thing. Maybe he should stop trying to persuade us he's grown up and just write grown-up songs.
Some of these songs are absolutely tragic. "Love Yourself," "Life is Worth Living," "Children," and "All in It" are ghastly attempts at life-affirming, positive-thinking gestures of gratefulness (for example, to God in "All in It"). "Children" is a laughable riff on the cheesy notion that the children are our future ("Who's got the heart?? Whose heart is the biggest?" he bleats). Travis Scott manages to make "No Sense" way worse than it already is. Halsey brings a subtle, welcome female presence in with "The Feeling" but reminds us how self-centered and masculine Bieber's world is. Nas and Big Sean don't make Purpose any worse, but they can't help the 21-year-old narcissist here. His team has chosen the right singles thus far, but with this album they'll run out of those soon.
- Bill Chenevert
nolead begins Chris Isaak
nolead ends nolead begins First Comes the Night
nolead ends nolead begins (Vanguard ***1/2)
nolead ends What becomes of the brokenhearted? They end up in a Chris Isaak song. Just kidding. But after three decades, romantic heartache does remain the singer-songwriter's overriding theme. Just look at this new album, his first of original material in six years: "First Comes the Night" ("You're still in my heart"); "Please Don't Call" ("We fell in love and we went too far"). And that's just the first two songs.
What's remarkable is how much mileage the 59-year-old Isaak continues to get out of a musical approach that has changed so little. It's still a retro-tinged blend of brooding, Orbisonesque drama and frisky Elvis sexiness.
Anyone who has seen Isaak live or in TV appearances knows he has a sense of humor that isn't readily apparent from his often lovesick musical persona. That side of him surfaces here with the rockabilly-fueled "Down in Flames" and the rollicking piano-pounder "Insects."
The San Franciscan recorded part of First Comes the Night in Nashville - his first foray to Music City - and that adds a few new twists that help keep things fresh while sounding like a natural outgrowth of his bedrock style. "The Way Things Really Are" is elegant countrypolitan soul reminiscent of Charlie Rich, and "Every Night I Miss You More" - one of five bonus tracks on the deluxe edition - is a lively country two-step.
- Nick Cristiano
nolead begins Rick Ross
nolead ends nolead begins Black Market
nolead ends nolead begins (Def Jam ***)
nolead ends Rick Ross long seemed content to be a boss in the background. His Maybach Music label ran the careers of Meek Mill and Wale. Rumors abounded of tight business control - and ghostwriters for rappers needing help with lyrics. Ross recently has been more in the foreground. He and fiancé Lira Galore visited Larry Wilmore's Nightly program on Comedy Central. He has remixed Adele's "Hello." Even his new CD opens out in a more public fashion. Broader, more personal, and sounding brighter than ever, Black Market shows off a Ross ready to be out and about, with his Maybach crew conspicuous by their absence.
Ross joins forces with soul's nicest guy (John Legend) and biggest voices (Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey) for music and universal messages less aggressive than his usual strip-club-money rants. On "Sorry," he duets with Chris Brown with production by Scott Storch. It's a new way to broadcast contrition for celebs in need of public forgiveness, way better than renting a Goodyear blimp. After the guest bits, though, we have "Ghostwriter," which stays personal but gets catty, and "Black Opium," which shows that this boss keeps his eyes on the streets and his fingers in the pie. - A.D. Amorosi