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Review: Shawn Mendes’ career comes of age in Wonder

The singer's fourth album eloquently showcases his artistic maturity

December 9, 2020

As I made myself comfortable on the couch and turned on Shawn Mendes’ documentary In Wonder over Thanksgiving break, I felt like I was eleven and discovering his music all over again. Engrossed in the film and constantly wanting more, one thought rang out in my head: I cannot wait for this album.

Come Dec. 4, Mendes released his fourth album, Wonder, which followed the 2018 release of Shawn Mendes. I had been skeptical of the latest album due to the polarity of the two singles—”Wonder” and “Monster”—yet the expectations I didn’t even know how to word were hit out of the park. In other words, waiting essentially my entire high school career for another Shawn Mendes album was worth it.

Mendes’ dedication and hard work are on display throughout the album. His shift from an awkward teenager new to the music scene to a mature global superstar has finally been solidified. Wonder is a pleasing pop listen with elements of rock that will steal any listener’s attention. While not as lyrically impressive due to its simplistic nature, Wonder proves that Shawn Mendes can experiment with new styles and do so gracefully.

The album cover for Shawn Mendes’ Dec. 4 album Wonder. The cover shows Mendes floating with a smile on his face as handwritten lines display variations of the phrase “In Wonder.” (Photo Island Records)

In comparison to his traditional style of acoustic guitar and piano, Mendes’ style in Wonder focuses more on synthesized, rock beats. These songs are loud, with bass that draws you in and keeps you listening. His confident and assured tone rings through—regardless of what song you listen to.

I could not talk about this album without explicitly calling it a collection of love songs. Mendes mentioned in his documentary that he wrote many of his songs about his girlfriend, Camila Cabello, and that theme shined through on Wonder. Cabello is a lucky woman. If someone wrote an album this great about me, I’d probably cry and find a way to play it on repeat 24/7.

Compared to past albums, Mendes is much more explicit about the maturity of relationships. I enjoyed this because it corresponds with his maturity as a person; as Mendes grows up, so does his music. The songs “Look Up At The Stars” and “Teach Me How To Love” are perfect examples of this. Both songs show no hesitation towards the complexity of love, from emotional and physical points of view.

My one critique is that I would’ve liked to see a sad song on this album. I am very happy that Shawn is so in love that he can write a whole album, but the man does know how to write a good song to cry to. It’s not even that all the songs on the album were overwhelmingly happy, but almost all of them were very upbeat. Because of this, Wonder ultimately lacks the variety and range of past albums. It’s distinct and iconic, but does stray away from stand-out songs for every mood.

I sincerely hope you love this album even half as much as I do. Wonder taught me freedom & how to surrender to the magic of art. Songs from the heart & sounds from another time and world. I love you all so much, thank you for the support for so many years.”

— Mendes in a Dec. 3 Instagram post

Unlike other albums, Mendes finds a way to link the songs together stylistically. A common theme throughout the songs is a slow, simple intro that abruptly becomes an upbeat and intricate instrumental with vocals that catch you off guard.  This is one of the first concepts I noticed about Wonder, and stuck with me enough to talk about how great it is. Mendes has a tendency to begin his songs slowly and gradually intensify, but he switched up on this album.

I absolutely loved this detail because it hyped me up for each song, and believe that scaling it down to a few sentences doesn’t do justice. I urge you to listen to “Song For No One” and “Piece Of You” to hear it for yourself.

So far my favorite song has to be “Dream.” It is the longest song on the album, and for good reason. At first, I was unsure due to the weird echo of voices in the intro, but the dreamy tone and growing harmonies made up for any dislike. The best way to describe this song is as if someone recorded the awe of being in a planetarium, and staring up into space without a care in the world.

While I wasn’t entirely impressed with his release of “Monster” as a single, I’m thankful that Mendes saved some of the best songs for the album. I thought that “Wonder” was impressive enough, but in no way was prepared for an album with other songs just as good—or even better. Even though they weren’t my favorites on the album, I appreciate Mendes’ goal to save the best for last. As you can tell, that goal was achieved.

Other songs like “305,” “24 Hours” and “Higher” were satisfying, but didn’t stand out to me as much as the aforementioned ones. Nevertheless, they fit the theme of this album well, conveying Mendes’ blissfully raw perception of love. I cannot wait to hear these songs live, and will be eagerly awaiting music videos.

I understand why Mendes worked so hard on this album and why he was so excited to release it. Wonder is everything that I wanted, and more. It’s catchy, makes you dance and everything else that makes an album unique. Mendes has grabbed the music industry’s attention once again, and declared that the former high schooler who made Vines in his childhood bedroom can be a successful music star.

I give this album a solid five knight stars, without a doubt.

Listen to it here:

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