Despite some lacklustre lyrics, this under-appreciated album is still sensational.
Jessie Wu, Staff Writer
Label: Def Jam, RBMG
Rating: 4/5 stars
After a long hiatus, Justin Bieber finally returned with his highly anticipated R&B album Changes, released appropriately this year on Valentine’s Day to mark the beginning of his married life. In comparison to his previous hits Purpose (which debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200) and “Despacito” (almost 7 billion views on Youtube!), Changes doesn’t seem to be doing as well. After all, “Yummy” (the lead single from Changes) only managed to snag second place on the charts – and even that was amidst much debate. Critics were quick to bash the album; Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos defined Changes as “shallow” and “ultimately forgettable”, while New Musical Express’s Hannah Mylrea characterized it for “lacking [in] substance”. Although there is a certain ring of truth to these accusations (look no further than the lyrics “yeah you got that yummy yum”), the album has much more to offer – if you look past its occasionally less-than-poetic verses.
Bieber makes a case for himself in “That’s What Love Is”, a track which features his effortless, effervescent falsetto accompanied by Alberti Bass on acoustic guitar. Set in harmonious A major, the chord progressions are simple and cleverly sequential – starting out with the tonic A with an added sixth, followed by a first inversion in F#, then B minor. Structurally, it’s perfectly reminiscent of the song’s topic: love, in small steps – as mirrored by the chromatic ascensions in the bass. Though some may think it bland, the chords speak for themselves on account of their simplicity. Paired with even sweeter lyrics (“you teach me patience/like the best of our worlds collide”), this track makes for easy listening during those lazy, early hours of the morning – or even during sentimental mid-afternoon walks under the sun when one muses over the inconsequentialities of life. After all, who says love can’t be simple?
In “Get Me”, the second single from his album, he teams up with fellow artist Kehlani to deliver a darker, richer-sounding track in C# minor layered with atmospheric gloominess. “Get Me” is all about R&B; backed by a slow-moving, electronic-type beat, artificial percussion, and minimal reverb, this combination is extremely easy on the ears. The duo discuss their seemingly instant compatibility and possible romantic connection over smooth vocals. There never really is a “beat drop”, per se, but the tone of the track changes when their voices mix in the last pre-chorus. Bieber’s contrasting riffs (in variations on E major) are juxtaposed against the backdrop of C# minor, making for an experience that is out of this world.
And finally, “Yummy”: the most controversial song – in both popularity and content – on the entire album. It has been criticized for being “torturous” on the ears (“You got the yum, yum, yum, yum”), and while that may be true lyrics-wise, here are a few reasons why it’s so mindlessly catchy. The entire song is based on two chords, D minor and Am7, with running syncopation over alternating G’s and A’s in the bass. This approach is typical of standard pop music, but Bieber’s superior vocals make all the difference. Towards the end, synthetic beats provide a lazy ambience to the entire track. For an unexpected point of comparison, the opening two intervals in the melody mirror the main melody in Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” exactly (in addition to other surprising parallels). Since “Jupiter” has been widely acknowledged by the classical community as a masterpiece, “Yummy” also deserves its spot on the podium. It is truly in a league of its own – from its lackluster yet playful lyrics to its two-chord compositional structure.
Currently, Changes has achieved first place on the Billboard 200 Chart. As the saying goes, “haters will hate”, but don’t let the haters prevent you from enjoying this sensational album in your spare time.
Jessie Wu is a first year humanities student at Trinity College.