After a Netflix documentary and concert special, Shawn Mendes has finally returned to the music scene with ‘Wonder’, his fourth studio album. It has been two years since his self-titled album, an album I genuinely really loved at the time. I listened to it not too long ago and it didn’t really keep my attention. Ironically though, I listened to ‘Illuminate’ again this week and I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. Needless to say I’m a fan of this guy’s music.
When I sat down to watch his Netflix documentary ‘In Wonder’, I came to the realization that I’ve been a fan of Mendes for almost five years which is insane to me. His music has been with me since Secondary School (High School for my American readers) and it’s followed me since. To be perfectly honest, after ‘Señorita’ became such a big hit, I started to lose interest in Mendes, especially since he didn’t follow that single up with anything till a year later with this new era. After listening to this new album and letting it sit with me for a few days, it made me rediscover a new interest in Mendes as an artist.
‘Wonder’ showcases Mendes’ most powerful assets as an artist; his incredible voice and his creative passion for music. Just like his past albums, ‘Wonder’ features Mendes’ signature traits which are romantic lyrics set to a very relaxed beat giving way to his insane vocal range. That being said, I just feel like there is something missing. Overall the album feels very confused on what it wants to be musically. There is this stimulating motif throughout the album which is featured in ‘Intro’, ‘Wonder’, ‘Dream’ and ‘Always Been You’. It’s this grand cinematic sound which elevates each song it is in. It feels so prominent to this album that it disappointed me when they didn’t use it to close the album. You have such an intriguing and enchanting opening only to then close the album with a sweet but repetitive song with little to no production. Another confusing choice in the production is the annoying need to make a 70’s / 80’s pop inspired track just like every artist is. Don’t get me wrong, Shawn works gorgeously with that sound, in fact ‘Teach Me How To Love’ is one of my favourite tracks off the album. However you then get ‘Piece of You’ which crosses the line of homage and becomes a straight parody of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ and any ‘Panic! At The Disco’ track you can think of. The fact that there’s no real musical cohesion is a bit disappointing but it doesn’t really take that much away from the album since for the most part it genuinely sounds great.
At it’s best, ‘Wonder’ reads like an epic romance with grand romantic tracks like the title track ‘Wonder’, the grand ‘Always Been You’ and the psychedelic ‘Dream’. There are sections of certain songs which blew me away. The dreamy instrumental bridge in ‘Dream’ really took me by surprise. Even the second pre-chorus on that song where Mendes sings it in a higher note is incredibly satisfying. In fact, the vocals overall on this album impressed me. I know that Shawn Mendes is a talented singer, he can sing beautifully but there is a very clear progression and ‘Wonder’ shows it… wonderfully. The amount of power he brings to the chorus in the title track blows me away each time especially once you try to sing it and realize how insanely hard it is. With this album he sounds so much clearer and in control. Despite me not loving the final track, it does shine a light on his raw vocals which was refreshing to hear from an artist.
What is perhaps my least-favourite aspect of this album is the beat-drops. There are way too many songs on this album which start out slow, pick up the pace and then transform into a completely different song. It pissed me off a ton on my first listen because the song never stopped throwing me for a loop. I don’t know about you but when I listen to a new song, my mind tries to immediately decipher how the chorus and the remainder of the song sound like and I rarely got a break with this album. Having revisited the album a few more times since it came out, I finally got a grip on which songs worked for and which didn’t. Even though there are tracks which go overboard with the production switch, they have grown on me for the most part. Tracks like ‘Look Up At The Stars’, ‘Call My Friends’ and ‘Song For No One’ have significantly grown on me despite having such a shocked initial reaction. However there are then songs which are the complete opposite, songs which feel slightly monotone and/or repetitive. Tracks like ’24 Hours’, ‘305’ and ‘Can’t Imagine’ are tracks I won’t necessarily be willing to seek out. Usually tracks like these feature a very simplistic instrumental with a versatile vocal carrying the melody. The best track which embodies that is ‘305’ but even then it feels too familiar to really be considered a standout. The album has this odd throwback to stripped down 2000’s pop and while it sounds cool, it comes off more as annoyingly familiar.
Overall Shawn Mendes’ ‘Wonder’ is an exciting step into his career albeit an imperfect one. This album is definitely a grower, the more I listen to it the more I like it. I don’t know where I would rank the album compared to his other work for now but with his insane vocal range and grand production, ‘Wonder’ is definitely worth listening to!
Ranking of Songs:
1. Teach Me How to Love
2. Always Been You
5. Song for No One
7. Call My Friends
8. Look Up at the Stars
10. Can’t Imagine
11. 24 Hours
12. Monster (with Justin Bieber)
13. Piece of You
‘Wonder’ is available on digital as well as CD and Vinyl right now!