Millions of girls would love nothing more than to glue Justin Bieber to the floor under a branch of mistletoe.
But, barring that unlikely event, they’ll have to make do with his “Under the Mistletoe” Christmas album, the pop idol’s official foray into the land of roasting chestnuts and tinsel.
The 11-track CD, available today, is a well-produced bauble in that it pulls back when necessary, but isn’t afraid to get silly. After all, it’s hard to remember that, despite his insane success, Bieber is still a 17-year-old kid, so why wouldn’t he want to rip out a funky, Jackson 5-type take on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”?
The proceedings start on a melancholy note, though, with “Only Thing I Ever Get for Christmas,” produced by Atlanta’s Tricky Stewart and one of six originals on which Bieber is listed as part of the writing team.
Some of the Bieber-born new tunes resonate – such as “Only Thing” and “All I Want,” another puppy love declaration (“I’m lonely baby, want you to hold me, baby”) that features a charming strain to his voice, the type of inadvertent whine that signals the arrival of an adult voice.
Others, though, such as “Fa La La,” featuring Boyz II Men and “Christmas Eve” with Chris Brown, are generic R&B thumpers, filled with synthesized beats and clichéd Christmas imagery.
To be fair, though, how many Christmas classics have been crafted in the past 30 years, except, perhaps, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which Bieber wisely covers here as a duet with Mama Mariah on a rendition deemed as “Superfestive!” And it is, indeed an ebullient joyride on which the partners fairly share vocal duties (one can imagine Carey bulldozing Bieber with her patented glass-breaking vocal runs, but she, too, shows some restraint here).
The highlights of “Mistletoe,” though come on a couple of standards. Bieber mentor Usher guests on “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) and, while the duo doesn’t do anything new with one of the most covered Christmas songs ever, it’s better off that way. This is a classy, understated version that benefits from their gentle vocals.
If it’s originality you’re seeking, Bieber delivers that, too, with his drum rave-up on “Little Drummer Boy” (yes, he is behind the kit). The song, as recognized for its cadence as its lyrics, explodes midway through with a Bieber rap (“Playing for the king, playing for the title, I’m surprised you didn’t hear this in the Bible”) before segueing back into traditional verses – that is, if you consider guest Busta Rhymes yelling in the background about gathering around fireplaces as traditional.
It’s definitely the hippest version of “Drummer” heard in years and it sounds as if Bieber had a blast in the studio playing with various voice technology.
But Bieber – and his team of producers – make the right call to close out the festivities on a reverent note with a subtle, piano-led “Silent Night.” The interpretation not only suits Bieber’s hushed vocals, but it gives him the chance to sing something meaningful – which will only make him more adorable to his fawning fans.