Justin Bieber Christmas release marks first as baritone

Tue Nov 1, 2011 1:31pm EDT
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By Chris Willman

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - "Under the Mistletoe" isn't just Justin Bieber's first Christmas album. More significantly, maybe. it's his first album as a baritone.

Well, relative baritone. The kid is still capable of sounding like he's singing in his falsetto range even when he isn't. But from the first not-so-stratospheric notes of "Only Thing I Ever Get for Christmas," it's clear Bieber has been through the non-menopausal version of The Change.

Or, to put it another way, "vocally, his balls have dropped," as his manager Scooter Braun was quoted as saying this past week, accurately, if indelicately.

For comparison's sake, proceed directly to the vintage track that closes the album's deluxe edition, a cover of Donny Hathaway's "Someday at Christmas" that appears to feature the same vocal Bieber put up on YouTube back in 2007. It sounds like an outtake from "The Chipmunks' Christmas Album."

But he's no cheerful, squeaky-voiced rodent on the newly minted tracks, even if it's a bit premature to certify the 17-year-old cougar-chaser (sorry, Selena) as a full-fledged soul man.

A who's who of R&B guest stars (and one country star) offer a holiday assist. His mentor, Usher, helps roast the chestnuts on the world's 15-millionth unnecessary reprise of Mel Torme's "Christmas Song." Boyz II Men -- speaking of boys becoming men -- collectively help out on an original, "Fa La La," singing that they "wanna be your biggest gift."

Mariah Carey guests on a re-do of her own "All I Want for Christmas" (the '90s smash that history may record as the final original Christmas song ever to become a standard). But it seems more appropriate to say that he guests on her recording. Bieber cut the song in a lower range, but then Carey heard it and suggested that they should do it as a duet, provided that he bring it back up to her original key. He should have kept the first version and turned her down; the end result sounds like Bieber singing along with Carey karaoke.

Certain to be the most polarizing track: "Drummer Boy," where both Bieber and Busta Rhymes add topical, lickety-split rap verses to the familiar tale of Jesus' own percussionist. Bieber also plays (yes) drums on the cut. To most non-fans, it'll sound like coal squared, but this "Drummer Boy" is so brash in its dumbness that it's kind of likable.   Continued...