A broad return that reflects the icon's maturation...

Since his rise to fame for his covers on Vine as a 14-year-old, Shawn Mendes has consistently worked towards a sound that establishes musical maturity. Almost two years after the release of his self-titled third studio album, the 22-year-old aims high with his fourth record ‘Wonder’, which attempts to diversify his well-established rock-tinged pop soundscape.

Opening track aptly titled ‘Intro’, lays down a strong foundation for the 13-track production with a lilting piano instrumental and Mendes’ signature breathy vocals which ripples into falsetto. The strong orchestral arrangement of the intro flows seamlessly into the heavenly choir of title track ‘Wonder’, which makes of the winning combination of poignant lyricism and emotive vocal delivery that makes up most of Mendes discography.

Following the fluidity of the first two tracks, comes the high-energy groove of ‘Higher’, which makes use of playful, flirty vibe juxtaposed with sickly sweet love song ‘24 Hours’, indicating the album’s general narrative of growth even within youthfulness. Mendes trades of ballad-y proclamations of love on tracks like softly yearning ‘Dream’, with the upbeat stylings of ‘Teach Me How To Love’, disco-party vibes of ‘Piece Of You’ and a duet with fellow teen pop sensation turned world-famous veteran musician Bieber on booming offering ‘Monster’.

The latter of the three is exciting in theory, however, the track which ruminates on the trials and tribulations of being young and famous is forgettable with a mid-tempo groove and juvenile contemplations. In contrast, Mendes delivers a powerful message along the same narrative on ‘Call My Friends’, as he laments the normal teenhood he lost out on during his journey to stardom; introspective, heartfelt and just plain good, this is one of the stand-outs of the album. Another highlight is the soaring ‘Song For No One’, where the Canadian singer is able to focus on showcasing his musical versatility and range.

However, where the brilliant orchestral composition of ‘Song For No One’, elevates it from a simplistic ballad into a track worth many listens other lovelorn offerings such as ‘Look Up At The Stars’ and ‘Can’t Imagine’, fail to establish authenticity as it seemingly focuses on the universal experience of pining for love rather than any narrative unique to Mendes – thus rendering them impersonal and skippable despite pleasant vocal quality that he presents.

'Wonder' is stocked full of emotions but Mendes doesn’t shirk away from sampling light-hearted sonics as with the bouncing beat and catchy melody of ‘305’, after which the record flows into intimate yet expansive soundscapes such as the stunning slow-build ‘Always Been You’. The track is simple in terms of lyricism as Mendes croons about a lover sent to save him from his demons, but makes an impact with instrumentals that begin with an orchestral quality of previous offerings yet builds into an anthemic crescendo that impresses.

Overall, the record is ambitious as it aims to explore genres, stories and showcase Mendes artistic evolution all at once. It doesn’t always succeed, at times feeling too shallow for it to be as impactful as Mendes intended it to be. But when it succeeds, there’s no flaw to be picked out and for that it’s worth a listen.

7/10

Words: Malvika Padin

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