“I wonder what it’s like to be love by you,” chants an infatuated, 22 year-old Shawn Mendes. This titular track and its encompassing album Wonder is filled with these sonically rich soundscapes. The singer songwriter’s fourth record is equal parts influenced by Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak and Yeezus. As if the album cover is proof of how watered down his inspirations become on the album, Mendes fails to depict love in a fresh or compelling way with Wonder.
The crooner has never been that deep of a lyricist, but surefire hits like “If I Can’t Have You,” “Lost in Japan” and “In My Blood” possess a sweetness and boyish innocence decidedly absent from this latest project. Mendes attempts to evolve and grow, but even in piercing through a more synth heavy production, he fails to convince listeners and maybe even himself of this new edge.
Something about the record feels overly forced into a specific lane. It feels wholly inauthentic at a variety of check points throughout the tracklist. “Teach Me How To Love” and “Call My Friends” are two specifically baffling tracks. With “Call My Friends,” Mendes attempts to convince listeners that his current headspace, longing for love, leaves him pondering calling his friends to “go get high.” On the former, Mendes manages to make a song about sex as sexless as possible. He’s released more successful songs within the thematic, including the annoyingly ubiquitous Camila Cabello duet “Señorita.”
“F’in me up, I’m what you deserve,” he hesitantly utters in the song. This need to perhaps appease young listeners is as good an example of any that Mendes is constructing a persona throughout the record that never fully lets go of his already naive image.
The album improves, rarely when it comes to pop albums, in its second half. Following the narrative of finding himself and love in the process, Mendes has met his lover and serenades her for much of the remainder of the album.
One of the more exciting tracks comes in “Dreams.” While it still possess the same level of corniness attributed to the rest of the album’s lyricism, the soundscape is sweeping and compelling enough to, for one of the first times at this point on the album, draw listeners in.
The strongest moment on the record comes in the Justin Bieber assisted “Monster.” It was anyone’s guess (and for some a deep hope) that these doppleganger Canadian pop stars would actually collaborate, and it doesn’t disappoint. An easy standout, it blends Bieber’s R&B leanings with Mendes’ confessional and introspective style. Touching on fame, love and pressure, its a pensive bop.
Another impressive track comes in late jam “Always Been You.” It toes the line between full fledged emotion and unsure vulnerability. This is echoed in the even split between epic horns and quietly strummed guitars. His vocals are incredibly strong on this track as well as the majority of the album. The track, though, is as good an example as any to explain the album at its core–a lyrically superficial attempt from an artist seeking evolution.
Wonder is a product of Mendes’ many musical inspirations. He blends together sounds from innovators like Kanye West and indie-leaning rock crooner Borns. The singer’s lack of success in transcending these idols to provide listeners with something new or original is what makes Wonder a heavily flawed album.