Album Review: Illuminate

Mini-Description: In my nineteenth album review, I get exactly what I expect from Shawn Mendes' sophomore slump. Manipulative white-guy-with-acoustic-guitar drivel, that is.

Best Song: "Mercy"
Worst Songs: "Treat You Better", "Bad Reputation", "Lights On", "Honest", "Don't Be A Fool", "Roses", "No Promises", "Three Empty Words", "Ruin", "Understand"


I have had complicated history with Shawn Mendes. Back when he released his debut album Handwritten, an album I haven't talked about as of now, I remember liking it but not really loving it (great, this is starting to sound like my Wild World review already). He had a potent, albeit somewhat flat, voice, lyrics that were inoffensive enough to be mostly dodged, and production that was big, but still pretty enjoyable. I mean, with songs like Life Of The Party and Something Big (the latter of which should have been so much bigger, really great song), you could almost consider me a fan, even despite Stitches being an awful wreck that it was, I had some hope for the kid.

But the singles for this thing proved me wrong in a big way, both of them we'll get to later. In a nutshell, I was both anticipating and dreading this album. Did I get any result I suspected? Is this one of the worst albums of the year?

Well, yes and no. On one hand, it will easily go on my list of the worst albums of the year for reasons we'll get to in a little bit, but on the other, I've seen albums this year try to go for this direction and do it worse, which in a way is kind of sad.

Because this album blows. Hard. So much so that I honestly can't say I like Handwritten as much, knowing that this was his followup. Wanna know what this reminds me of? Charlie Puth's Nine Track Mind, an album I absolutely despise. While this isn't as bad, the parallels are almost uncanny.

And with Shawn Mendes' voice, you can tell where they are. He's such a weird performer who with time you realize can hit that perfect sweetspot between weak and annoying that few can match, and his stabs at being soulful and gentle are completely unmoving and thin. And of course, unnecessary self-harmonizations and awkward backing choirs galore, with the worst example being Treat You Better and the abysmal vocal layering that makes his already grating voice even more unlistenable. His falsetto isn't impressive at all more than it is frail on a technical level. And my biggest issue is, despite all his lack of charisma and his pathetic voice, his boyish tone has made everyone fall head over heels for him anyway.

Which brings me to the lyrics.

I've always had an issue with white guys carrying acoustic guitars when it comes to songwriting. They're usually catty, self-centered, and lusty. But for this album, Mendes goes the extra mile. Imagine if John Mayer's hackery were input into a 2009 Justin Bieber clone. You have this.

In simpler terms, the writing on this album can be placed in three different lanes: cowardice, laziness, and punchability. To be fair, Hold On is a little bit less insufferable in its search for self-identity, and Mercy is probably the best song here for being similar to Handle With Care off of the last Kid Cudi album and arguably a little better, even if it is basically a better version of Charlie Puth's My Gospel (you know, the worst song off of Nine Track Mind), both of which are less captivating versions of Bruno Mars' Grenade. But right from the first song Ruin, he says that he doesn't want to ruin the girl's happiness, but on the same song he says that he's the only one for her. It's even worse on the breakup song Don't Be A Fool, where despite shoving this girl away from him and telling her not to have faith in the fact that she can't find another man (exactly what a girl wants to hear), but he tells her to kiss and embrace him. Shamelessness at its finest.

That's nothing compared to the other one Honest, where Shawn Mendes seems to not understand the fact that it doesn't matter how honest you are about yourself, it doesn't make you look any less insufferable when you tell this girl that you can't provide for her. It doesn't even stop, because we have the couplet of Treat You Better and Roses. The video for the former does, to be fair, put it in a better light, but that doesn't make it any less ugly. Shawn tells us that this girl is very much happy with the man she's with, but still insists on nagging her and trying to steal her from her man. It's easily the worst thing on this album. The latter tries to be a bit more backhanded with its approach, but in a way you could argue that's worse, because he's trying to sugarcoat that he just wants to steal this guy's girl and nail her, in the same way that Sam Hunt did with Take Your Time.

Don't Be A Fool is also cemented by No Promises, in which Shawn Mendes is content, almost obsessed, with making the relationship have no emotional attachment, not wanting to make any promises with it. I get you're insecure, but at the very least, have some guts!

Three Empty Words sounded way better and was much more well written when it was called Bow Down, a song off of the deluxe version of CHVRCHES' Every Open Eye album. It was one of the weaker songs there, but it at least had the decency to admit that the relationship limbo that Lauren Mayberry was stuck in couldn't be helped or solved. Here, Shawn Mendes knows that he can just end the relationship instead of saying "I love you" because anything more would hurt, but is completely unwilling to break the relationship.

At this album's worst (ignoring Treat You Better and maybe Honest), we have Understand, Lights On, and Bad Reputation. The first of the three is for the most part just mediocre, if a bit muddled, until the groan-worthy spoken word coda (just because Nick Cave can speak through his songs on his latest album doesn't mean you can), where he says as long as he changes, everything's fine. Oh yeah, the condescension continues on the second song, where Shawn Mendes wants to screw this girl, but in such an eloquent way, with the lights on and with her clothes on. Even ignoring how shockingly lame this is, it's hilarious in a way not intended, almost hysterical. And on the third song, he shames the girl by proxy, before telling her that he's the only one who understands her, then says that he wants to see what's underneath. Oh yeah, did I mention that this guy has zero competence whatsoever?

Let's talk about framing for a second. It doesn't get talked about enough on music. There's a clear difference between what is said and how it is said. Ignoring it is the reason that garbage like most charity songs go under the radar, usually at least, while songs like Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson (a song very much about bragging), and Honey I'm Good by Andy Grammer (a song about just barely dodging a girl trying to have him cheat) get flack. And it's not just lyrical, there's also instrumental and vocal framing, which we'll get to. But here, Shawn Mendes is trying to play the nice guy, the ladies' man, the slick and cool dude who is also sensitive and romantic, which is the very reason why the generally sleazy writing is all the worse.

And that brings us to the instrumentation and the production. I'll give it this; it's a tad cohesive, and it's higher-budget than Handwritten, but where did that budget go? It surely didn't go to giving the songs any sort of pleasantness. It's not a good sign when (to be fair, it was slightly better mixed) Treat You Better has the best instrumental on the album, because every song here is stiff, bland, and shockingly forgettable. Ignoring the fact that the piano ballads are laughable and the fact that all the acoustic songs are hackneyed and dull, the production on this album is so smooth and whitebread, and as a result of the unvarying instruments, the whole album becomes tedious and monochrome, and runs together fast.

And what's worse is the tone of the production. It plays itself so fuzzy and clean, as it's hiding like a snake in the grass the uglier lyrics that lurk beneath. Say what you want about 2009 Justin Bieber, at least he wasn't this manipulative! Even when the lyrics aren't as ugly like on Like This or Hold On, the former is way too dark and dour to fit with anything, and the latter is so thin that whatever self-recreation that is to be made completely runs dry.

This really didn't illuminate much other than the fact that Shawn Mendes is a lazy, insincere hack whose surprising startup quality was by accident. Say what you want about Adam Levine, or The Weeknd, or Ed Sheeran, at least they own up to being sacks of garbage, and at least they have real instrumental and vocal chops, and at least they have charisma! Shawn seems completely okay with being a barely-matured brat. Although this isn't as terrible in a realm where Rae Sremmurd, Meghan Trainor, RiFF RAFF, and Bastille have all released sophomore slumps worse than this, and how Charlie Puth's equally sanitized tripe is even worse, this is still a solid 2/10 and absolutely zero recommendation. Mendes Army, I know you're deluded and will fall over any teenage boy who happens to have a technically flawless face, but you deserve better than this. Avoid it like Ebola.

This is WonkeyDude98, and now I have to finish Doomtree and Nick Cave's discographies, and then I have reviews for Eminem, Chris Brown, Fifth Harmony, Radiohead, Danny Brown, Corey Feldman, Green Day, and OneRepublic to tackle. Yeesh.


The mendes army doesn't have top tens accounts right? - ProPanda

Unless you count EvilNuggetCookie, no. - WonkeyDude98

He respects opinions so it's ok. - ProPanda

Good review, but do you think this album will take over the world? It's called Illuminate after all. - Skullkid755

It went to #1 on the Billboard 200 instantly (didn't we just eradicate the "awful Canadian album" virus? ), so... - WonkeyDude98

I wish Bill Cipher was here, he'd prevent the Illuminate from taking over. - Skullkid755

Shawn= New Bieber, while Bieber= Male MO - ProPanda

Gravity Falls references, woo.

No, I meant Drake. - WonkeyDude98

Oh - ProPanda

I'm crying of laughter because the Spectrum Pulse review got destroyed with dislikes. - visitor

Yes, by your kind you...well, I'll stop there lol - WonkeyDude98

Wait, was Corey Feldman the same guy that was in Stand By Me, Lost Boys, and Goonies? - RalphBob

Yes. - WonkeyDude98

Wow... What happened? - RalphBob

You tell me, man. - WonkeyDude98

Well, what happened was that he was a child star. Then he basically became a former child star. Simple as that. - visitor

Demi, Selena, and Drake Bell were all child stars, and DB is great, Selena is good, and Demi is... decent? Eh.. still, that's not an excuse - ProPanda

Oh yeah and he was in The Fox And The Hound - ProPanda

You do realize the joke was that a "former star child" is usually about someone who struggles to get critical reception after their days as a child star are over, or otherwise is regarded as a joke? - visitor

Also Gremlins. - RalphBob


Yo soy estupido - ProPanda