Home Entertainment Shawn Mendes’s ‘Wonder’: Album Review

Shawn Mendes’s ‘Wonder’: Album Review

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“Wonder” is, overall, much less polished than Mendes’s last album or the one prior, “Illuminate,” released in 2016 and still his best work, which featured oodles of tightly zipped and anxious teen pop-rock. (Though he works with some of the same collaborators, including Kid Harpoon, Nate Mercereau and Scott Harris, notably absent is Teddy Geiger, the songwriter and producer who gave those albums ballast and nerve.) Harry Styles might get the glamorous magazine covers and the thirsty memes, but Mendes in general has been a far more convincing avatar of this approach. Styles’s music suggests a perpetual ambient sonic vision quest, while Mendes at his best has tossed off a series of crisp hits with flourish.

On this album, though, his lyrics meander and stop short of true sentiment, and his rhythmic deliveries feel less cohesive. He still has a way with swell, understanding how to inflate his voice from whimper to peal. But on this inconsistent album, rarely does his singing convey depth of feeling. The handful of dippy love songs — “24 Hours,” which chirps like Christmas music, or the sock-hop-ready “305” — don’t match the mood. The only exception is “Look Up at the Stars,” an ambivalent love song about the relationship between idol and idolizers. “The universe is ours/And I’m not gonna let you down,” Mendes sings tepidly, like someone who understands — and is resigned to — how much of that dynamic is beyond his control.

The most famous male pop star of the last decade is burdened by a similar ambivalence about success. That would be Justin Bieber, who duets with Mendes on “Monster,” a smoky, smooth mope-off, with the two singers performing a kind of gut check for their fans. “You put me on a pedestal and tell me I’m the best,” Mendes sings, without a flicker of joy.

Four years and a couple of lifetimes older than Mendes, Bieber has long been a performer for whom superstardom itself is the raison d’être, with music a distant second (or fifth, or ninth, at least up until this year’s “Changes”). His verse is more tart, more nostril-flare: “Lifting me up, lifting me up, and tearing me down, tearing me down.” He sounds exasperated, over it. An older brother letting his little brother know just how cruel the world can be. He understands he got here, and he’s looking for an exit.

Shawn Mendes
“Wonder”
(Island)

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