Austin Mahone, 'The Secret' EP: Track-By-Track Review

Album Review

Since Justin Bieber began his pop ascendence in 2009, no male teen solo star has come close to equaling (or surpassing) the Canadian superstar's ubiquity. Artists like Cody Simpson and Greyson Chance each found moderate success after the Biebs' initial explosion but have yet to become household names, and while collectives like One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer have thrived, Bieber has remained the lone male teen to establish himself as a mainstay at Top 40 radio.

But just as Bieber has recently invited a sizable amount of scorn due to a highly public series of unfortunate events, the first real challenger to his crown has emerged: Austin Mahone, a savvy 18-year-old from San Antonio that has similarly used YouTube videos to accrue a fan base that exists in the millions on social media. After making his Hot 100 debut last year, Mahone's first high-profile project, "The Secret," has arrived. Does the eight-song collection posit Mahone as an actual threat to the Biebs' hard-fought heartthrob status?

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The results are inconclusive. At 27 minutes, Mahone's new EP sounds like the prelude to something more defined, in the same way that Mahone is still grasping at different personas without fully committing to one style. There is little to dislike about the eight songs on "The Secret," which range from smirking party-starters like "Mmm Yeah" to kindhearted ballads like "All I Ever Need"; with its slick production, theatrical vocals and huge, harmless hooks, the project actually resembles a late-90's boy band album (and that's meant as a compliment). Mahone is a charming pop presence without a whiff of danger, and while he handles these songs with aplomb, "The Secret" has its fair share of clumsy lyrics and choruses that entertain but don't dazzle.

There are flashes of the artist Mahone could one day become on "The Secret," and luckily for him, this EP is just the first in what will very likely be many steps for the teen star. If "The Secret" does not unlock the signature hit that Mahone is sorely striving to produce, that's fine; he's got time, and a void in the pop universe that needs filling.

Check out our track-by-track breakdown of Austin Mahone's "The Secret":

1. Till I Find You

Sirens introduce this springy RedOne production, as Mahone wakes up with a girl's picture in his phone and the image drives him to romantic obsession. "Till I Find You" is an enjoyably safe starter that deserves some creative play-acting when Mahone performs the track on his upcoming tour.

2. Next To You

"I see ya trying to break a smile/But we know that tears never lie," Mahone insists over a series of elastic electronic effects and in the middle of some cute come-ons. Mahone may have to work to snatch the girl of his dreams away from her snooze of a boyfriend, but the lilting synthesizers of the chorus make for an inviting habitat.

3. Mmm Yeah

Overcoming its lame-brained lyrics and Jamiroquai-ripping music video, the Pitbull-assisted single "Mmm Yeah" remains a grower thanks to its goofy wink of a hook and Pitbull's playful verse, which includes him yelling the word "Rewind!" and then making mouth-noises that sound like a tape rewinding.

4. Secret

After starting out with a sinister robot chant that recalls Daft Punk's "Technologic," "Secret" becomes a stomping throwback to Backstreet Boys' bombastic hit "Larger Than Life," and the EP's strongest track. Mahone sells the concept of being the only one that a girl can share her secrets with, exuding confidence in the process of confiding.

5. Can't Fight This Love

"I've been hit by a train/It came out of the blue/What a beautiful pain/When I fell so hard for you," Mahone croons on this overly emotional track. The bubblegum synth blasts and subtle percussion twists make "Can't Fight This Love" an agreeable sequel to Mahone's early hit "What About Love."

6. All I Ever Need

The slow jam is a fairly standard pop ballad, with a solidly earnest performance from Mahone. But more importantly, the 18-year-old produced the track and did a pretty great job -- the hushed key twinkles, finger-snaps and lush melodies come together splendidly on "All I Ever Need."

7. The One I've Waited For

Another heartfelt love song, this time with Mahone professing his undying love before a guitar solo bubbles up. As Mahone sells the idea of spending eternity with his special girl over shuffling beats, "The One I've Waited For" becomes the song most likely to conjure shrieks from Mahone's young audience.

8. Shadow

A tender acoustic ballad like "Shadow" is kind of a downer to end Mahone's first project, but he fortunately has the voice and charisma to carry a stripped-down arrangement like this. "Shadow" already seems to be a fan favorite, and for good reason.


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