By JackIf the success of Shawn Mendes is anathema to you, you aren’t alone. Talented he undoubtedly is however there is nothing at all distinctive about his brand. Loved-up pretty boys? Earnest acoustic balladeers? Had ’em. What sets Mendes apart is his guitar: a prop which he never seems to be without.
Playing an instrument isn’t the strongest USP in the world of, well, music. However it has proven a useful angle to shape Mendes’ image. Tender, broken-hearted, sat alone strumming on an acoustic guitar for a girl who doesn’t care. That’s the sort of thing teen girls will take to, and they have.
Before that though, you’ll have to overlook the fact this is a self-titled LP which is Mendes’ third. So what were the first two albums then? Were they someone else?
I thought ‘In My Blood’ was an odd choice for lead single. I still do. It feels no less out of place here, on an album of bouncy pop. It’s a simplistic surge to chorus, with dull verses that save all the drama for the admittedly exciting refrain. The beat sounds exactly like that found in Death Cab’s ‘Tiny Vessels’, whilst the vocal stylings are pure Caleb Followill cry and holler. The narrative thrust: that casual sex and alcohol don’t guarantee mental well-being, feels genuine. Essentially 13 Reasons Why put to music.
This third album is best when it’s having fun. ‘Lost in Japan’ is a wonderfully rubbery pop tune. ‘Particular Taste’ is goofy, perhaps unintentionally, but a great listen. ‘Nervous’ however is a little too JT-Lite.
Mendes has an amazingly rich voice. His warmth and sensitivity makes songs work even when the foundation isn’t the strongest. What’s more, he’s dialled back the doggerel saviour-complex act he indulged on ‘Treat You Better’ and the terrible ‘Stitches’.
It is clear what he needs, like JT before him, is a long-term collaborator with a distinctive style. Taken on his own he battles to avoid sounding a little bland, and while he usually succeeds, this album never quite gets there and packs the flavour of boiled white rice.
Shawn Mendes is an enjoyable album. It does not, and will not, grant Mendes access to the highest echelon of pop stardom. He’s still no Beiber. However taken on its own merits this album shows commendable growth in sound and identity.