Album of the Week: Shawn Mendes Matures on Striking Self-Titled Effort
Between his six-foot stature and ample catalog, Shawn Mendes makes it hard to believe that he's only 19 years old. The fact that he is already on album No. 3 is impressive in itself, but what's even more remarkable is the evolution Mendes has made in getting to this point in his career.
Perhaps that's why the singer-songwriter opted to self-title his latest effort, as Mendes establishes himself as a peer to his (slightly older) pop predecessors with spicier lyrics and attention-grabbing bass lines. Considering his young age and previous successes with 2016's Illuminate and 2015's Handwritten, Mendes didn’t really need to prove anything with his latest set. Yet, Shawn Mendes does so inherently, transitioning him from teeny-bopper tunes into at a more mature world of brilliant production and poignant songwriting.
This is immediately apparent with the lead-off track – also the lead single – “In My Blood,” which sees Mendes at his most vulnerable yet as he grapples with anxiety (“I'm looking through my phone again, feeling anxious/ Afraid to be alone again, I hate this”). That kind of transparency pervades in Shawn Mendes’ 14 tracks through a balance of upbeat melodies and heartfelt slow tunes, which allows Mendes to be more introspective on an album than he ever has.
He admits a comparable self-consciousness in the more funk-driven second track “Nervous,” showing his ability to address similar topics in contrasting ways. Mendes further dives into other insightful matters both personal and political: The plucking “Like To Be You” (a duet with co-writer Julia Michaels) follows both sides of a relationship in the middle of an argument, and the Khalid-assisted “Youth” confronts the pitfalls of tragedy through the eyes of younger generations.
Mendes’ use of collaboration on his self-titled LP (both in noted features and behind-the-scenes) aids the singer in creating a cohesive yet diverse collection. OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder’s contributions offer his knack for driving melodies (“Particular Taste”) and profound lyricism (“Because I Had You”), while Ed Sheeran’s mastery of ballads helps Mendes’ romanticism – which he developed on his own – truly shine on “Falling All In You.”
Mendes also got a production assist from one of his idols, John Mayer, on “Like To Be You.” However, the most Mayer-esque track on the album is the soulful “Where Were You in the Morning” (which he performed with Mayer at an Apple album preview event) – which ultimately displays the 19-year-old’s attentiveness to those he admires.
What’s more, Mendes has cited Justin Timberlake as a major inspiration for his third album, which is present in his tender falsetto on slower tracks like “Why” as well as a gutsier approach to relationship woes on songs such as “Mutual” (“Are you playing me? Is this a game/ When you show up late/ Say love at two AM/ Then tell me you can’t stay”). Influences aside, Mendes and his trusty songwriting partners Teddy Geiger and Scott Harris were clearly looking to channel a more raw side of the singer – something that results in mix of creative storytelling on more imaginative numbers like “Lost in Japan” and insightful evaluations of every topic he tackles, such as a toxic-yet-exhilarating romance on “Perfectly Wrong.”
But Mendes’ maturity isn’t something that should worry the Mendes Army members that fell in love with the innocence he offered when he was merely entering his teens. In fact, his album closer “When You’re Ready” features lighthearted guitar and super-sweet lyrics (“And if I have to I’ll wait forever/ Say the word and I’ll change my plans/ Yeah you know that we fit together/ I know your heart like the back of my hand”) reminiscent of his swoon-worthy beginnings, as if to reassure fans that Mendes hasn’t lost sight of his purity.
Shawn Mendes marks a progression that feels organic, one that’s also necessary for Mendes’ career as he cements himself as one of pop’s most reveled young stars. And if he carries that kind of growth into his twenties, Mendes won’t have any issue holding that position.