Shawn Mendes - Shawn Mendes (Review)

Martin_Canine
SHAWN MENDES
Shawn Mendes
★★★☆☆

If in the last two years one artist successfully claimed the title of becoming the next Justin Bieber, it’s Shawn Mendes. The comparison isn’t in any way far fetched. Both artists make pop on the border of both contemporary RnB and indie music, both are Canadian, both became popular at a rather young age and both are known for the crooning about relationships. It’s virtually impossible discussing Mendes without the mentioning of his immensely famous predecessor, whether it is intended as a compliment or an insult - after all, both artists are also known to be fairly polarizing, having chart topping hits that bring them armies of fans and stampedes of haters. But as accurate as this comparison may be, Mendes is neither as bad nor as good as Bieber.

My history with Justin Bieber is one filled with dramatic ups and downs, and he’s one of the few artists who I awarded both 1 and 5 stars in the past. I reviewed his discography on a German website some time in 2016, with his dreadful unharmonious christmas compilation Under the Mistletoe getting my rare worst rating (the robotic sound effects, rapping and dubstep breaks are capable of spoiling the most euphoric holiday mood), while the matured, artful RnB poetry of Purpose got my full five star rating (both My World albums got 2 stars, and Believe received 4).

Now, Shawn Mendes’ songs never were as cheesily sung and poorly written/produced as Bieber’s before he took artistic control, he already started off at a very professional level with a high quality production and performance, something that Bieber’s early records had to struggle with very much. Mendes knows when to keep his voice quiet, and when to raise it - and he also never tries too hard to create an earworm, instead he lets the music take its time to get through the listener through its emotions. Mendes has been actively involved in the creative process from day one, always having been a singer-songwriter, while Bieber slowly grew into that. Now, on his third album, Mendes also dared producing his music himself. Is this a sign of ultimate liberation? A dramatic departure from his previous style? Not so much.

Much like his previous records, Shawn Mendes is a thoroughly solid pop record at a constantly good level. Mendes keeps the tempo rather slow paced, often with very minimalistic instrumentation, focusing fully on his singing. It often works: it became rare these days hearing a love song quite as emotive and vulnerable as Perfectly Wrong. Stripped down to piano and expressive vocals, that’s one hell of a song he got there. A majority of the other songs, e.g. In My Blood, Why or When You’re Ready, just to name a few, are on the smoother, more relaxed side. They’d definitely be a hit at a romantic date. Because I Had You would have sounded great if Justin Bieber wouldn’t have had a smash hit called Love Yourself three years earlier. I don’t know about you, but I just couldn’t get over the resemblance in melody, vocals and (lack of) instrumentation. Particular Taste and Nervous are as upbeat as it gets, and are reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s old Justified days before he got more experimental. There’s a bit of funk in there, and an overall poppiness that keeps the tracklist fresh without straying too far off the direction the rest of the album has.

As you can see, there is little to criticize about Mendes’ self titled album, but also just as little to truly praise. Mendes goes exactly where other crooners have gone before him in the past decades, and at a fairly professional, polished. He has the charisma, but no outstanding personal touch to add to the genre. He has the heart, but not the vision. He has the feeling, but not the melodies. Shawn Mendes probably won’t become a classic that will stick around as a prime example for the greatness of 2010’s pop music landscape. But for what it wants to be - an album that predominantly contains songs about love and all the bumps along the way - it’s executed very carefully, without ever leaving its comfort zone.

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