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Shawn Mendes’ ‘Wonder’ one month on: a magical escape into wonderland

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After the success of Shawn Mendes’ self-titled third studio album in 2018, the Canadian singer has evolved, both in his personal life and musically. Wonder was a heavily anticipated album as fans finally found out what direction Mendes had decided to take his music in. Since coming into the public eye as a Vine star, Shawn Mendes has sold out tours and released bestselling songs, coming a long way from being the quiet one in teenage comedy group Magcon. Whilst Wonder is still very much a Shawn Mendes album, it’s clear he’s grown as an artist and moved away from bubblegum pop and towards more mature themes and sounds.

With a tracklist of 14 songs, Wonder reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 200, and fell short of the top ten in the UK. This album brings more musical variety to the table than previous albums, with Mendes obviously deciding to branch away from his comfort zone to experiment with new techniques. Compared to Shawn Mendes, there’s only one feature (not counting the Camila Cabello Christmas track on the deluxe version), and as a result the album really plays to Mendes’ strengths. This said, the songs in general are shorter than is usually expected – nine come in at under three minutes – making the album feel as if it’s over before it’s fully able to take off.

In the run up to the album, ‘Intro’ was released as a teaser of what was to come. Its haunting melody is reminiscent of Gene Wilder singing ‘Pure Imagination’, drawing you in from the start and setting this magical tone for the rest of Wonder. Throughout the whole album, the production and the instruments don’t falter, with the melodies and progressions helping with the album’s dreamlike vibe and setting the mood perfectly. It feels like there’s a greater variety of instruments used in Wonder than ever before in any of Mendes’ albums, and the use of synths and drums is noticeably more mature.

As a whole, Wonder doesn’t seem quite as personal as Shawn Mendes, with many of the lyrics feeling slightly generic, which is a shame as Mendes is a brilliant songwriter

The lead single, ‘Wonder’, follows this theme and is probably one of the best songs on the album that inevitably makes you want to hear more. The slower vocals crescendo into a more epic orchestral section, something new to Mendes that works very well. This song also holds some beautiful reflective lyrics that evoke a certain sympathy from the listener as he questions himself and what society expects of him: “I wonder, when I cry into my hands / I’m conditioned to feel like it makes me less of a man”. In its accompanying music video, Mendes throws himself into nature, growing more and more passionate as he belts the lyrics so intensely that you are unable to tear your eyes away.

Towards the end of Wonder, ‘Piece of You’ shines as another highlight of the album and sounds like a slight reinterpretation of old-school rock. The use of synthesisers makes it at times reminiscent of the 80s and you can’t help but head-bang along to it as the beat truly allows the music to hit you. In fact, compared to the rest of the songs on the album, it’s probably the one that’s furthest from Mendes’ usual style, and it works well.

Although Wonder is a good step in a new direction, it still feels as if the Canadian has more to give

As a whole, Wonder doesn’t seem quite as personal as Shawn Mendes, with many of the lyrics feeling slightly generic, which is a shame as Mendes is a brilliant songwriter. The plus side of this is that the songs are easily relatable. ‘Call My Friends’ is probably the song on the album that touches most on Mendes’ personal life; it reflects on how he’s always away from friends and family due to his job and misses many important moments. He feels distant from everything he used to know, and although he has ideas of certain things they could be doing together and knows he should keep in touch with those back home, it’s not always so simple (“I miss how it was when we wished we were older / Feeling so far when I wanna be closer”).

However, whilst Mendes’ pleasing falsetto and silky vocals make it almost impossible for the album to be bad, it still seems like it could’ve been pushed further. Wonder is an enjoyable listen, but leaves the listener wanting more. Shawn is known for his slower music so it’s exciting to see him begin to step out of his comfort zone and try new sounds and arrangements, but it could’ve been pushed that bit further. It also doesn’t seem to be very clear just what exactly Mendes is trying to do, as the songs flit from one mood to another in a way that doesn’t always seem fluid and means the album at times loses some cohesiveness. Although Wonder is a good step in a new direction, it still feels as if the Canadian has more to give.

Overall, the album is clearly the beginning of Mendes’ evolution away from the bubblegum pop he started with. Whilst his usual style is still present in Wonder, his growth is easily perceptible. It’ll be interesting to see where he decides to go next and the album is worth a listen, especially if you’re searching for a dreamy, slightly other-worldly feel.

 

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