Shawn Mendes’ Wonder  Swerves From Uninspired

The history of recorded music is as long as it is terrific. While that may sound wonderful, I can assure you there are strings attached.

Today’s mainstream artists face an originality problem, one which many musicians feel no desire to solve— though there are some current exceptions including Jacob Collier, Kendrick Lamar, and Vulfpeck. Few lack the passion required to create something that is truly their own, but among those who do is 22 year-old Canadian Shawn Mendes—one of five under-the-age-of-18 artists in Billboard album chart history to debut at #1. On Wonder, his latest album, Mendes chases that very passion.

Before setting out to write new music, Mendes understood that he first had to acknowledge his shared flaw. He said, “It’s addictive… it’s destructive. You miss out on the most beautiful part, which is the process.”

Unfortunately, recognizing the reality leaves the artist only halfway to his destination. There is a certain creative muscle, one which develops over time, that the artist continues to grow. “Intro’, the album’s generically titled opener, demonstrates this by handing the listener a somber bore of a piano part alongside some genuinely thoughtful lyrics. The first verse, containing the lyrics “You have a million different faces/But they’ll never understand unless you let them in,” contrasts with the purposefully mediocre instrumental and introduces the album’s romantically complex topics.

“Wonder”, building off of the initial emotional maturity, yearns for an unknown love. Mendes clearly presents the idea using a combination of simple yet powerful lyrics, an example being “I wonder what it’s like to be loved by you.” Albeit over a well-worn chord progression, the striking synthesizers and choir-like backing vocals produce a musical joyride.

“Higher” uses exotic Middle Eastern flavored elements to solidify the artist’s fondness for romance. As the title suggests, the song raises musical expectations that are unfortunately squashed by the uncreative, lyrically unexciting, even grueling “24 Hours”, which comes next. Lyrically immature lines like “Who cares about if they approve/I’d face them all to be with you” stifle Mendes’s reach for originality. “Teach Me How To Love” borrows a dramatic disco feel and pairs it with adventurous funk. The genre-blending creates a nest in which salacious lyrics rest, which of course the song has! The track’s first line, “Your body’s like an ocean. I’m devoted to explore you,” may to some seem inappropriate and offputting, yet it undeniably draws the listener in to this genre-blending gem.

“Call My Friends” follows and doesn’t disappoint. The song sets a daringly aggressive, melancholic mood, selling its intentions with lines like “I should call my friends and go get high/I need a vacation from my mind.” Highlighting feelings of youthful insanity makes the song too relatable for Mendes’ audience to pass up. "Dream" closes the side with mystical harmonies and a soothing energy.

The seemingly too depressing to be taken seriously “Song For No One” captures an agonizing trait found in many romantics— which Mendes well captures describing his past difficulties having no partner with whom to share his overwhelming emotions.

“Monster”, which comes next in the digital track order, is omitted on the vinyl version. The reason isn’t stated, but it’s probably to keep the side to a manageable length. The album includes the track as a digital download card.

On “305”, a track filled with electric sounds and bubbly energy, Mendes enthusiastically pursues a romantic interest, while also accepting the accompanying risk. “Always Been You” borrows from the previous track’s energy. Mendes uses it here to reassure a lover of his devotion.

In “Piece Of You,” a self-depreciating song of romantic obsession, the singer expresses the jealous frustration felt watching others pursue his love interest.

“Look Up At The Stars” spotlights a swooning musician thriving in studio freedom. Note in the pre-chorus bass and drums leaping through space, a most interesting part of the tune. On the raw, intimately recorded album closer “Can’t Imagine” Mendes accompanied by his lonesome guitar sings lines like “Without you, all the bird would stop their songs”, demonstrating, among other things, his utter dependence on lover.

Credit to Randy Merrill for mastering a seriously excellent sounding record, though no doubt the long list of production staffers get credit for handing him a well-recorded album. Even on my modest system, I swear I could “see” the singer in front of me. To the side of that lifelike image sat whichever instruments the song featured, whether piano, guitar, or oft used synthesizers.

My main gripe with this record is the flimsy inner sleeve on which are printed the lyrics. Both my original and a replacement copy had seam splits, the latter being worse than the original. This is a shame, and yet another reason why labels should provide for all releases a separate, poly-lined inner. A Mendes poster is included that no doubt today hangs on thousands of teenage girls’ bedroom walls.

Ultimately, though this isn’t a ground-breaking record, it provides an enjoyable listen experience available to all. Should you pick up a copy, I can guarantee that throughout its entirety you’ll likely find yourself in a teenage trance!

(Nathan Zeller is a Beatles fanatic and budding audiophile found in frosty Western Canada. Currently, he’s celebrating now that he’s solved the problem of the little amplifier that couldn’t stay on!)

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Ethan's picture

Though Shawn Mendes isn't a name I would typically find myself listening to, my interest is piqued by the praises you sing of this album in originality. It may be something I'll have to check out myself.