Fortunately, Mendes writes about different aspects of his relationship to help the album achieve some thematic balance. The starry-eyed, danceable “Higher” and sexually charged “Teach Me How To Love” are followed by a flummoxing period of separation on “Call My Friends” and “Dream”; after multiple songs that feature oversized arrangements and towering declarations of love, the stripped-bare finale “Can’t Imagine” sparkles with intimacy. Some of Mendes’ lofty musical ambitions on Wonder don’t quite work out, and that’s fine -- this is a mountainous, risk-taking project, and its imperfections are still worth the effort. At just 22 years old, Mendes continues to push the scope of his creative vision, and Wonder represents an exciting burst of artistic energy.
Although Wonder is a strong front-to-back experience, some of its 14 songs stand out immediately. Here is a humble, preliminary opinion on the best songs on Shawn Mendes’ latest album.
At a little over a minute in length, the intro to Wonder gives the listener a warp-speed crash course in the textures of the album that follows, as gentle piano keys morph into maximalist synth stabs. The intro isn’t meant to be a standalone statement, but does segue quite nicely into “Wonder,” the album’s title track and actual mission statement.
A pop-rock flare-up that would have fit comfortably on Mendes’ self-titled third album, “305” utilizes a springy guitar line and some puppy-love lyrics (“If there’s a door to heaven, baby, you’re the key”) to induce a few grins. The song doesn’t innovate, and that’s okay: the shaggy charm of “305” come naturally to Mendes, and should delight longtime fans.
12. Song For No One
As the strings swell midway through “Song For No One,” a quiet rumination on unrequited love quickly explodes, with the acoustic finger-picking falling away in favor of an orchestral setup and rafter-rattling crooning from Mendes. What would have been a muted interlude on past albums becomes a big-band spectacle, and Mendes once again experiments with his approach.
11. Look Up at the Stars
The production on the fan-dedicated “Look Up at the Stars” demonstrates the album’s aspirations: the track could have been arranged as a straight-ahead pop song, but instead morphs into a classic-rock riff with smatterings of strings and guitar squeals. Mendes guides with a steady hand, his voice never trying to outmatch the sonic flourishes surrounding him.
10. Teach Me How To Love
An exploration of R&B and funk that chronicles some unabashed sexual healing, “Teach Me How To Love” lets Mendes shimmy across some unfamiliar terrain, and he sounds like he’s having a blast in the process. The stylistic fit isn’t pristine, but Mendes’ enjoyment on the track is contagious enough to make it a worthwhile journey.
9. Always Been You
Searching for a wedding song that allows for some head banging? Look no further than “Always Been You,” the righteously romantic Wonder centerpiece in which Mendes bares his soul in between bursts of crowd-pleasing bombast. For an album that was clearly made with one eye on arena audiences, the “ooo-OOOH!” outro here is one of the purest pleasures available.
Although it masquerades as a club anthem, “Higher” actually values the joy of a rock-solid relationship, especially post-breakup (“Last year was a broken heart,” Mendes repeats three times, as if to convince himself that his current romance is not a mirage). Still, the pulsating beat and Mendes’ palpable exuberance keep “Higher” humming along as an uptempo highlight.
7. Piece of You
On “Piece of You,” Mendes addresses the jealousy lurking in the pit of his stomach as the rest of the world gazes upon his pop-superstar girlfriend; as such, his performance here is jittery and yearning, as he owns up to his insecurities with clipped declarations. The slithering synth-rock pairs thematically with the lyrics, and “Piece of You” makes for a late-album gem.
“Wonder” is the sound of Mendes reaching for the stars and trying to pull a few back down to earth, as he pairs lyrics about escaping reality and overcoming toxic masculinity with choral swoons, booming percussion and a shimmery breakdown. By selecting the title track as the album’s lead single, Mendes is putting his ambitions for the project on full display, and possesses the arena-rock know-how to make it work.
5. 24 Hours
“I’m not the type to overthink / When something feels so right,” Mendes croons on “24 Hours,” a young-love ballad with a chorus that finds the pop star ready to settle down permanently. The uncluttered production, full of plinking piano keys and ample silence, places the focus on Mendes’ vocal warmth: with a happiness so genuine, it’s hard not to be charmed by his feelings of peace and commitment.
There’s a beautiful ache at the heart of “Dream,” a song about missing a significant other that carries an urgency deserving of its widescreen synths and stadium-rock drums. When “Dream” fully unfolds and Mendes reaches for his upper register, the result is a dizzying high that’s at once relatable -- after all, what’s more universal than longing for someone you love?
3. Monster feat. Justin Bieber
The long-awaited team-up with fellow Canadian superstar Justin Bieber lived up to its billing upon release, but in the context of the Wonder track list, “Monster” is even stronger, offering one of the album’s most cleanly executed choruses (about grappling with fame, natch) and a straightforward arrangement after a few gestures toward the grandiose. Mendes and Bieber already performed the track at the American Music Awards, but let’s hope “Monster” becomes a live staple for both arena artists.
The thing that Mendes “can’t imagine” on the Wonder finale? That would be a world without his beloved, of course, and on this acoustic closer, Mendes leaves his voice unadorned and vulnerable to the world. The imperfections on the recording read as tender, and “Can’t Imagine” wisely ends Mendes’ grand statement with a quiet, human touch.
1. Call My Friends
The second third of the Wonder track list begins with perhaps its most complete statement: “Call My Friends,” on which Mendes stumbles through his loneliest feelings on the road, features both taut songwriting and expansive production, each evocative detail pushing its contained story forward until the power-pop hook. A song built around tour fatigue, “Call My Friends” is paradoxically going to slay in concert -- and lingers with the listener long after it concludes.