Justin Bieber unplugs for new ‘Believe’ album
Published: January 30, 2013 11:56AM
Updated: January 29, 2013 08:20PM
Kim Raff | The Salt Lake Tribune Justin Bieber performs to a sold out crowd at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Jan. 5, 2013.

Whatever else Justin Bieber may be -- nascent pop-music genius or teen heartthrob with a finite career window — he’s a master at maximizing his material.

Some other superstar pop acts release an album only every two or three years, but Bieber constantly has new music in the pipeline. Just seven months after the release of his last album comes Believe Acoustic (three stars out of four), which takes eight songs from 2012’s Believe — including hits As Long As You Love Me, Beauty and a Beat and Boyfriend — and gives them bare-bones arrangements.

As Long As You Love Me, for instance, already has at least a dozen different mixes, in addition to the radio version. Now there’s a track that’s pared down to just Bieber, a second vocal track and Dan Kanter’s acoustic guitar, the kind of arrangement you might hear at an intimate radio-station concert or in a YouTube cover.

Believe Acoustic also features three new songs, one a ballad, Nothing Like Us where Bieber sings, “There’s nothing like us/There’s nothing like you and me together.” True fans may hear it as a plea to ex Selena Gomez.

In some ways, Bieber’s release schedule is a throwback to the ‘60s, when such favorites as The Beatles and The Monkees released two or three albums a year. Yet it also suits today’s instant-delivery business model, cultivating fans’ passion by sating their appetite for new music.

Melodically, Bieber always has been a bit of a throwback, too, from 2010’s Baby, which sounded more like ‘50s doo-wop than contemporary pop. Here, scrubbed free of dance-floor elements, such songs as like All Around the World or Be Alright assume the texture of timeless singer/songwriter pop.

Don’t mistake these tracks for rough demos or in-the-moment performances. Despite their apparent simplicity, they’re fussed over, each note made perfect and given a glossy sheen. By the time Bieber gets to I Would, a new song that seconds the emotion of Smokey Robinson’s midtempo Motown grooves, he’s ready to build up the sound again, adding electric guitar, drums and strings.

Still, these tracks focus more on beauty than the beat. For people who’ve forgotten — or who never understood — the appeal of young performers like Bieber, Believe Acoustic is a good place to hear it.