Shawn Mendes is the epitome of millennial success. This is a teenager who, aged 14, gained millions of fans over the course of only few months after he started posting short videos of himself covering songs on Vine (RIP) in 2013. The next year, he was signed to Island, and in 2015 (by which time he was basically an OAP, at 16), Shawn dropped his debut album ‘Handwritten’. Saccharine and twee, you’d mistake him for a member of the mouse house, but his army of fans adored it: It went straight to number one in both his native Canada and the US, and has since gone platinum in both countries. All of this in the space of two years.
There’s been another album since, 2016’s ‘Illuminate’, which showed a more grown-up sound and spawned a handful of excellent pop singles (‘There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back’ and ‘Treat You Better’ in particular). But now in 2018 it’s almost as if Shawn has hit the “reset” button, releasing his self-titled third album – the universal sign of a career regeneration – and moving away from the sugary sweet sound he won over the Internet with. Instead, he’s produced a record that borrows from his mentor John Mayer, as well as huge stadium rock bands like Kings of Leon and R&B arena fillers like Bruno Mars.
Take the funk ridden ‘Lost In Japan’, which see Mendes croon over a slick bass line à la Maroon 5, and switch into a falsetto that’d give Timberlake a run for his money. Then there’s the Ryan Tedder co-penned ‘Particular Taste’, which boasts jazzy guitar riffs punctuated by bouncing beats. And the OneRepublic front man isn’t the only collaborator: songwriting extraordinaire Julia Michaels’ influence is evident on the slinky ‘Nervous’, and her wistful acoustic duet ‘Like To Be You’. You can even hear Ed Sheeran in the stuttering acoustic guitar of weepy cut ‘Fallin’ All in You’. But the real collaborative triumph (and really, the album highlight) comes in the soaring Khalid duet ‘Youth’. The rousing song was written in response to last year’s terror attacks both in Manchester and London, with the lyrics boldly affirming: “As long as I wake up today/You can’t take my youth away.”
Yes, there are lows: the mawkish ‘Why’ is as sticky as treacle and slushy ballad ‘Perfectly Wrong’ is an unwanted lull as the penultimate track on the album, but these are in the minority. In general, ‘Shawn Mendes’ is a bright and bold new direction for the 19-year-old singer, as he leaves behind sickly choruses for brazen, guitar-ridden anthems; he sounds all the better for it.