Justin Bieber PURPOSE

Justin Bieber’s new album is peppered with songs full of apologies and redemption. The troubled star claims he’s changed. And maybe he has. Or not.

But one thing’s for sure — his music has gotten better. So much better.

“Purpose,” Bieber’s first album since 2013’s R&B-influenced “Journals,” finds the 21-year-old edging out his own zone in the current pop music landscape. The Biebs has almost found his voice.

He opens the album — with noteworthy production from EDM expert Skrillex — with downbeat songs both personal and real. The R&B number “Mark My Words” feels grown-up and sexy. On “I’ll Show You,” Bieber gets deep.

“It’s like they want me to be perfect, but they don’t even know I’m hurting,” he sings.

His “don’t-count-me-out” attitude also shines on the simple piano tune, “Life Is Worth Living,” where he proclaims, “I’m working on a better me.” Drawing from his real-life experiences is what makes Bieber’s album notable, along with his falsetto, which he has close to mastered over the last few years.

“Purpose” isn’t always reflective — it’s also full of addictive pop gems. Even if you hate the kid, it’s hard to hate the songs.

The ridiculously catchy “Sorry” is easily one of the year’s best pop songs, thanks to its irresistible, dance-inducing beat. And the hits “Where Are U Now” and “What Do You Mean” follow suit.

“No Sense” has a trap sound that is a highlight; the layered and experimental “The Feeling,” featuring rising newcomer Halsey, has a winning hook; and Bieber is cool and calm on the stripped-down “Love Yourself.”

On the latter, the singer throws jabs at an ex: “My momma don’t like you, but she likes everyone.”

Even that girl will be in love with this album.

— Mesfin Fekaduap

The Associated Press

One Direction “Made in the A.M.”

“It’s inevitable that everything that’s good comes to an end,” sings One Direction on “Love You Goodbye,” a wistful song from the British band’s fifth studio album, “Made in the A.M.”

The tune is about a romance’s demise, but the quartet — this is their first album since Zayn Malik’s departure — could just as well be addressing their upcoming hiatus. Since their first album, 2012’s “Up All Night,” One Direction’s skyward trajectory has seen the band seamlessly segue from chart-topping albums, reliably delivered every November, to sold-out stadium tours with little downtime in between.

One Direction has always been musical magpies — closely referencing The Who on “Best Song Ever” or Def Leppard on “Midnight Memories” — and that habit doesn’t stop here. With its echoes and big drum beat, album opener “Hey Angel” conjures up Robbie Williams; the breakdown of the hit single, “Drag Me Down,” mines “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Harry Styles’ ex, Taylor Swift; and don’t even get me started on the similarity between acoustic crooner “I Want to Write You a Song” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”

Despite the imitation game, One Direction’s strength has always been the vocal arrangements and the satisfying pop hooks the lads bring. On “Made in the A.M.,” they add in a playful experimentation, perhaps emboldened by their pending break, on doo-wop and horn-flavored “Never Enough,” which is, oddly enough, punctuated by caveman-like grunts, and the exuberantly retro “Olivia.” Should this be their swan song, they leave on a high note.

— Melinda Newman

The Associated Press