You thought “Chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue” was the most sublimely ridiculous lyric in pop history when Justin Bieber rapped it? Wait until you hear him sing it, in a love-man croon, over delicately brushed bossa-nova-style guitar. The latest offering from the Bieber Industrial Complex, featuring eight sotto voce acoustic renditions of songs from Believe, is worth it for that “Boyfriend” remake alone – and, yes, he sings the Buzz Lightyear rap, too, and sings it damn well.
As cash-grab “remix” albums go, Believe Acoustic offers a little added value, for hardcore fans, at least. The unplugged versions of blustery dance-pop bangers like “All Around the World” and “Beauty and a Beat” sound a tad wan, with a six-string standing in for the synths and bludgeoning rhythms. But Bieber gives the songs his best, and his raspy, soulful vocal tone stands out nicely against the stark musical backdrop. There’s a bit of an agenda here, of course. Like all teen-pop idols, Bieber has been relentlessly attacked as “inauthentic” – whatever that means – and this album is an answer to the critics: proof that the Bieb is, verily, a musician, whose songs work even with the highgloss production stripped away. That said, the best songs here (besides “Boyfriend”) are the three new studio tracks, especially the lovely neosoul ballad “I Would,” which has something like a full-fledged studio arrangement: drum machine, vocal overdubs and, somewhere under it all, yep, an acoustic guitar.