Across only three days of December 2013, Journals was released, Justin Bieber announced his retirement -- surprise! -- and Justin Bieber's Believe opened in theaters. Journals, an unpromoted collection heavy on R&B-oriented ballads, arrived in a dead zone for new releases -- not that last-minute holiday shoppers could have stuffed stockings with it anyway, as no physical edition was available. Many of its songs appeared on the Billboard Hot 100, but only two of them remained for a second week. In another odd twist, perhaps an act of sabotage or one of confused mercy, the album was not submitted for sales tracking, so it did not appear on the Billboard 200, where it would have presumably landed in a low slot. As for the film, that grossed barely two-million on its opening weekend. The entertainer's career was in a bizarre state. Roughly a year later, Skrillex and Diplo resuscitated a vulnerable piano ballad Bieber handed them and applied it to a wobbly dance-pop production. That song, "Where Are Ü Now," reached the Top Ten in the singer's native Canada, the U.S., and several other territories. By the end of 2015, Bieber's career and personal life, which had been marked by a series of public blunders, appeared to be back in order. "What Do You Mean?" and "Sorry" had skillfully latched onto the spritely tropical house sound; the former became his first number one hit in the States, and the latter narrowly missed the top. These singles also showed him making a deeper connection with his material and that, yes, he was progressing from performer to artist. Highlighted by those three hits that preceded it, Purpose is characterized as much by its inward-looking ballads, like the voice-and-piano-only "Life Is Worth Living" and the title track, both of which offer full-effort stock spiritual platitudes. In those songs and many others, there's repentance for personal and romantic slip-ups, and Bieber -- yearning, aching, but not desperate -- frequently sounds as if he's trying to win over a lover for the long term. There are many metaphorical obstacles in his path -- he dodges lightning, a blizzard, and an avalanche, skates on thin ice, gets stuck on a treadmill -- yet he ultimately owns up to his own mistakes and admits "Don't nobody deserve myself." A bumpy, oddly compelling restart, Purpose should hook open-minded pop fans who previously paid him no mind, and it could even win back some of those who wrote Bieber off years ago.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman