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Justin Bieber, ‘Under the Mistletoe’ – Album Review

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Christmas is “Bieberized” this season with the teenage dream’s first holiday set, ‘Under the Mistletoe.’ It’s a mixed bag of new tunes, as Justin Bieber delivers a familiar fare of standards and classics. He takes liberties with some and is loyal with others! Overall, he’s all grown up — with a deeper voice that delivers sexier, more romantic lyrics encased in festive songs full of bells and whistles, literally.

The album is also rife with guest appearances, furthering its mass appeal. There’s something for everyone on ‘Under the Mistletoe,’ as The Biebs has invited stars from the R&B (Usher), country (The Band Perry), rap (Busta Rhymes) and diva (Mariah Carey) world to participate. It’s a smart marketing move, further casting the net to fans of other genres who might not be Beliebers … Yet.

Sonically, though, the most notable thing about ‘Under the Mistletoe’ is the growth and maturity of The Biebs’ voice. His vocals have deepened, and save for a scant few exceptions, you won’t find the higher registered teenage style we experienced on his previous releases. He’s on stronger footing, positioning himself as a viable R&B singer — complete with PG lyrics.

Thanks to the universal, genre-free appeal, ‘Under the Mistletoe’ is at once classic and modern — did you ever think you’d hear the colloquial term “shawty” used in a festive, holiday jingle? — but our boy Biebs handles himself well.

1. ‘Only Thing I Ever Get for Christmas’
The album begins with an uptempo, R&B-flecked love song about being satisfied with what you have, like the girl you love, during the holiday season. Here is where The Biebs’ is shifting towards the Justin Timberlake vocal model. It’s sprinkled with some festive cheer, too. [Listen here]

2. ‘Mistletoe’
The Biebs uses the word “shawty” when singing about gathering around the fire, roasting chestnuts and following his heart like the Wisemen followed a star. His R&B vocals assert themselves again in this dreamy, almost reggae-style song, with a melody similar to Jason Mraz‘s ‘I’m Yours.’ We’re not in The Biebs’ age group, but our knees would buckle if he sang this to us. Without the lyrics, though, you’d never know this was a holiday song! [Listen here]

3. ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)’ Feat. Usher
With the help of his mentor Usher, Bieber puts a butter smooth stamp on a classic. Usher lets his protoge take center stage, as Bieber’s rich and silky voice is the showpiece among the harmonies, finger snaps and a bluesy guitar riff. [Listen here]

4. ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’
This fun holiday fave gets a modern, funkdafied update courtesy of Bieber and his boundless teenage energy. Teens will be cranking this for their high school holiday parties. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself grooving, as well. [Listen Here]

5. ‘Fa La La’ Feat. Boyz II Men
No, this is not an update of ‘Deck the Halls,’ although the familiar hook does show up in the song. It’s slow and sexy R&B jam where The Biebs harmonizes with Boyz II Men, telling a loved one that their heartbeat is like a melody. Swoon. Biebz II Men in the ’11, yo! [Listen Here]

6. ‘Christmas Love’
Sleigh bells ring in this warm and fuzzy lovers ditty, where The Biebs celebrates the fact that a loved one is better than any gift. He samples lyrics from Christmas standards, but it’s not quite a mashup. It’s still cute how he pulls lyrics from ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ and ‘Deck the Halls.’ He also shows off the breadth of his vocal range courtesy of some dynamic harmonies. [Listen Here]

7. ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ – Duet With Mariah Carey
Bieber tackles Mariah Carey’s modern classic, which was a huge hit for her in 1994, when he was one step beyond the twinkle in his father’s eye! It was a vocal workout for him to sing in the same key as Carey (per her request); but JB and Carey make a striking pair … Musically speaking. No worries for Nick Cannon. We gotta be honest. We like the newer, silkier, smoother, R&B’ier Bieber! [Listen here]

8. ‘Drummer Boy’ Feat. Busta Rhymes
Pa rum pum pum pum. The Biebs takes the most liberty and artistic license with his re-do of the normally mild ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ He twists the song into a yard stomping rap song with a beat that won’t quit. It is based on ‘LDB’ and he is a percussionist, so you do the math. Busta Rhymes rapid-fires his lyrical parts. As much as it raises eyebrows on paper, it works, especially when JB encourages his fans to donate during the holidays. [Listen Here]

9. ‘All I Want Is You’
The holidays are always a ripe time for making amends, so this song laments the loss of a love one, starting out as a maudlin, melancholic offering before escalating into a speedier at track with a looped beat. It’s a Christmas party pooper — nobody wants to be left out in the cold. [Listen Here]

10. ‘Fa La La (A Capella)’ Feat. Boyz II Men *
We want to rechristen this ‘Fa La La-capella,’ since that’s what it is. The Biebs and the Boyz reprise an earlier song, and it’s all about their voices and their harmonies. The Boyz are perfect backup singers.

11. ‘Christmas Eve’
Chris Brown penned this slick, silky and layered R&B song and The Biebs offers up his best Brown impression. It’s the most mature and romantic song on the album and also features our boy wonder Justin going low, low, looooooooooooooow here and there. There’s also lots of studio treatment to his vocals. Presents? Who needs presents when you got your shawty! [Listen Here]

12. ‘Home This Christmas’ feat. The Band Perry
Thanks to twangy guitars and three-part harmonizing, Bieber and TBP inject ‘Under the Mistletoe’ with a little below the Mason-Dixon line energy. It’s another song about battling the elements (and life) to get home and into the arms of the one you love, who will be holding the door open with one hand and will have a cup of peppermint hot chocolate in the other. [Listen Here]

13. ‘Silent Night’ *
Bieber delivers a loyal take on this golden oldie, and it’s really the most respectful way he could have addressed such a holy, spiritual song. Backed by just a whimsical piano, his voice also goes higher than the rest of the album. It’s quite beautiful. It ain’t broke, so he didn’t try and fix it or tamper with a classic. Even your grandparents would love this. Nice work, JB. [Listen Here]

14. ‘Pray’ *
The song is quiet, contemplative and examines the spiritual side of Christmas, with Bieber reminding us to pray for the brokenhearted. The Biebs is an avowed Christian — remember his VMAs speech? — so he is also using his holiday album to remind people WHY we celebrate Christmas.

15. ‘Someday at Christmas’ *
Turn the clocks back, not because Daylight Savings Time is upon us but because this is a throwback to The Ghost of Bieber past. While most of ‘Under the Mistletoe’ is a showcase for his maturing voice, this is classic, young and innocent Biebs. He’s cherubic when he sings this Stevie Wonder classic. It’s like watching the evolution of Michael Jackson from ‘I Want You Back’ to ‘Billie Jean,’ only with a few icicles forming on his bangs! [Listen here]

* Indicates Deluxe Edition

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