Mendes impresses musically, falls short lyrically

Shawn Mendes, who gained popularity after posting music covers on the app Vine, dropped his fourth studio album on Dec. 20. While the music production was stellar, Mendes has work to do in the lyrical department. // Photo courtesy of Glen Luchford

Our Take: 3.5/5 Stars

Following the release of his Netflix documentary “In Wonder,” Shawn Mendes debuted his fourth studio album “Wonder” on Dec. 4 2020.

The prelude film failed to impress viewers and instead made them witnesses to the incredibly awkward and timid interactions between Mendes and Camila Cabello, Mendes’ girlfriend and source of inspiration for a majority of the album’s tracklist. While Mendes lacked charisma in the documentary, he more than made up with his musical gusto and passion that is present throughout “Wonder.”

Starting at the top of the album, it’s clear by the first few tracks including the minute long “Intro” that Mendes set out to take listeners through his journey through what seems to be his almost overwhelming feelings of love and romance. These feelings are amplified through the hollowed piano, haunting melodies and seaside aesthetics that intertwine throughout the album to paint a picture of a man who seems to be drowning in love to the point that he can’t help but regurgitate every cliche in the book.

Mendes does what Shawn Mendes does best on this album, meaning that he produced a few hard hitting ballads and bangers (think along the lines of “In My Blood” and “Lost in Japan” from his self titled album “Shawn Mendes”) and somehow tricked his listeners into believing that the rest of the album was flawless. What makes “Wonder” slightly more redeemable than his previous albums is the intense care that was clearly taken to produce the beautiful instrumentals that make listeners feel like the main character of their own coming of age story.

The background music, however, can only compensate so much for the shallow lyrics that accompany the tracks. While this album marks the arrival of a more mature Mendes and a musical shift away from the manufactured pop found on his earlier works, some of the songs still come off as lyrically stunted.

Nobody expected Mendes to reinvent the wheel on love songs, and lyrics such as “I heard that once a wise man said ‘Only fools go rushing in’” bleed outside the lines of unoriginality.

With that being said, there are a few notable songs on “Wonder” that make up for the instances of underdeveloped writing. The album’s title song “Wonder” is a woeful ballad that teeters on the line of unrequited love and stands as a song designed to be screamed at the top of your lungs while driving a little too fast down the highway with all the windows down.

The pace picks up and gets slightly spicier with the tracks “Higher” and “Teach Me How To Love” that offer a dance break throughout the otherwise lowkey and reflective album.

While “Wonder” primarily focuses on the feelings surrounding Mendes’ relationship with Cabello, the album also touches on the anxiety and the pressures associated with his fame.

“Call My Friends” serves as an anthem for the envy he feels as the responsibilities of being a musician prevent him from spending time with his hometown friends.

Mendes seems to use multiple points in the album to apologize for not being able to be everywhere at once, as evidenced in the beginning of “Wonder” where he admits that he has neglected his friends to the point where they may believe he has forgotten about them. Mendes expands on his fears surrounding fame with Justin Bieber on the track “Monster” where they work through the media’s unrealistic expectations for the pair that found themselves in the limelight at a young age.

What ultimately carries the album is the intense instrumentals that tug on the heart strings of listeners, but a closer listen into the lyrics show that Mendes is struggling to fully step out of his pop sweetheart comfort zone.

“Wonder” represents a step in the right direction for Mendes and it can only be hoped that his lyrics will one day reach the same level of beauty and sophistication that the music and his vocals have achieved on this album.