While Shawn Mendes’ new album, “Illuminate,” isn’t the worst album I’ve heard this year, it sure is one of the least interesting.
Man, does Shawn Mendes try on this album. Unfortunately for him, he’s about the only one giving any sort of effort on his sophomore release.
The 18-year-old singer/songwriter from Toronto tries to make an interesting throwback pop album akin to that of contemporaries Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor. In some moments, it sort of works.
“Mercy” is anchored by Mendes’ strong singing voice. He brings life and energy with the way he belts. The song could have been a legitimate banger. But the production lacks the punch the song needs so desperately.
“Treat You Better” also works in some capacity. Mendes has another excellent vocal performance. He really shines hitting those high notes in the song’s chorus. The song shows Mendes’ maturity as a songwriter in tackling the subject of an abusive relationship.
The production is slightly better, as the vocals are backed by a decent guitar riff. But the drums lack the spark needed to match the energy of the guitar riff. Overall, it’s not a bad song, but it could’ve been so much better.
The bad news is that’s about as good as it gets on the album. The rest of the tracks show why “Treat You Better” and “Mercy” were the singles – they’re the only tracks that aren’t mid-tempo slog.
The rest of the tracks just start to blend together.
Half of the tracks seem to have been written as slow jams perfect for soundtracking the middle school dance. “Don’t Be A Fool” is the most generic ballad I’ve heard in a long time. Again, it isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s another bore on an album full of them.
The production is what really kills this album. Mendes sounds solid on all of the tracks. But the production all sounds the same. It destroys any momentum built up in the earlier tracks. And with the 40-minute run-time, the album really starts to get old halfway in.
Boring might be a better look for this release, as the later tracks that are interesting aren’t interesting for good reasons.
“Lights On” is a PG-rated wannabe sex jam, with the lyrics referencing how good a girl looks in the light of Mendes’ hotel room. I understand there might be some self-censoring here – I mean, this kid is only 18. Still, it’s a complete poser of a track that tries too hard to capture swagger he just doesn’t have.
The song reminds me of an equally horrible track, “Marvin Gaye,” by the aforementioned Puth and Trainor. While the Mendes track isn’t as cheesy, they both fall victim to the same problem. Both make sex sound as unsexy as doing taxes.
Also, a personal note to Shawn Mendes: Don’t name a song “Bad Reputation” when it’s a slow and mundane piano ballad. Joan Jett would be ashamed of you.
The low point of the album has to be the closer, “Understand.” Musically, it’s just another unremarkable piano ballad in an album full of them. The three-minute mark is when the song goes from mediocre to maybe the worst thing I’ve heard all year.
He starts giving a pseudo-inspirational speech. I’m not joking here; the speech is one of the most pandering and least genuine things I’ve ever heard on a pop album. Right there, I just had to turn the album off; it’s just too much for me.
“Illuminate” isn’t as obnoxiously catchy or as immature as Mendes’ first record, but it’s significantly more humdrum. The only captivating thing in the album is how bad some of the lyrics and concepts get.
If you are on a Mendes kick, just listen to the singles. That’s all this album is good for.