Shawn Mendes released his sophomore effort ‘Illuminate’ last week on Friday. With this full-length album the 18 year old dives much deeper than his last effort ‘Handwritten’, sharpening his songwriting skills and vocals prowess to the likes of John Mayer, and every other guitar strummer singer-songwriter we’ve seen in this and the last decade so far. But what separates Mendes from all the rest is his ability to experiment and grow his identity from a former vine star into a mature pop superstar. Since his last album, Mendes has aged like a fine wine. Here’s a track-by-track review for Illuminate:
“And I’m not tryna ruin your happiness, but darling, don’t you know that I’m the only one for ya?”
Immediately into the song, it’s clear how much of an impact John Mayer has had on Shawn’s developing sound. The rock-flavoured track starts off with an emotive guitar, as it progresses Shawn’s vocal delivery match the expressive ambience of the song. Undoubtedly a great album opener, with Ruin, Shawn has set the mood for the entire album.
“Please have mercy on me, take it easy on my heart. Even though you don’t mean to hurt me, you keep tearing me apart”
A track we’ve heard prior to the album’s release, you’d think Mercy would feel out of place, but Shawn’s emotive and almost violent vocals accompanied with equally banging production, from start to finish, carry the track very well. It starts off with Shawn humming over recurring piano chords, the guitar line quickly kicks in and the song elevates to a resonant performance equipped with a full choir at the end. With Mercy, Shawn pleads and begs his unreciprocated love to have some mercy on his heart, the result is a booming song.
Treat You Better
“I know I can treat you better than he can, and any girl like you deserves a gentleman”
With it’s massive production and emotive vocals, this track picks up right after the last one leaves off. But it’s the track’s lyrics that really deserve the spotlight. The lyrics talk about an abusive relationship through Shawn’s perspective, and his inability to do something for the victim. Sadly there’s no happy ending to the track, as it ends Shawn is left pleading and forced to watch this abusive relationship continue to happen right before his eyes. Kudos to him for promoting awareness against domestic violence, this excellent use of his music is a clear sign of his maturity.
Three Empty Words
“And I know it’s gonna hurt, but darling I’ll go first, cause I won’t keep on saying those three empty words”
After three largely produced bangers, Three Empty Words relieves the listener’s ears with a stripped down guitar background, with Shawn’s voice being the main course. Just listen to those harmonies…mmm
Don’t Be a Fool
“And don’t be a fool and wait on me darling. I know that you don’t wanna hear this, but I’m always on the move”
An honest and bluesy track, Shawn pours his heart out to his love whom he can’t be with due to his hectic lifestyle. It seems to be obvious the impact Shawn’s growing stardom has had on his personal life, and the result is an amazing and quite dreamy song.
“I can try to stop it, all I like. Hands down, I’ve lost this fight. Thought I was strong enough for you. But I just can’t hide the truth. So I guess I’m going down, I guess I’m going down, Like this”
One of Shawn’s strongest vocal performances on the album so far, pumped with the emotional energy of all the previous tracks, Shawn softly cooes the lyrics and growls at just the right moments. An excellent gospel-flavoured track.
“Baby please no promises, cause we won’t keep our promises. And I know the consequences, so baby please, baby please no promises”
An obvious future single material, on No Promises a track that shows his potential for a future R&B crossover, Shawn gives us a little glimpses of his elastic falsetto and with the drums kicking in during the chorus, and the little background elements, this track is the best and the most exciting thing we’ve heard on this album so far. Our favorite pick!
“I wanna love you with the lights on, keep you up all night long. Darling I wanna see every inch of you, I get lost in the way you move”
Probably the most mature track we’ve seen on the album so far, the sexual context of the lyrics lean more towards a subdued and sophisticated heart, instead of sounding borderline creepy“..I’m a gentleman so I’ll be..” Shawn softly sings, and we agree.
“Is that I hate to hurt you but I got to be honest, I can’t give you what you need, Oh, you deserve more than I can promise”
After hinting his soft falsetto on No Promises, Shawn makes more use of it on this funky mid-tempo track. The confessional-type lyrics are sung with quick delivery, the song almost makes you feel like you’re hearing it live and unplugged.
“Can you make your mind up, please, I’m losing my patience, you know I’m losing my patience, yeah”
On Patience, an obvious boy-band flavoured and reggae styled track, Shawn pours out his frustration, he is done being toyed with. The harmonies against the slightly cheerful vibe of the song make it the perfect summer cut every album needs, unfortunately this one doesn’t.
“She got a bad reputation. Nobody gets too close. A sight of a soul when it’s breaking. Making my heart grow cold”
This track is another example of Shawn’s growing maturity, so far he has explored themes on this album that we have never seen or would have expected to come from him before.With Bad Reputation he leaves the listener surprised, angry, sad–a whirlwind of emotions, but above all–satisfied.
“And every time I ask myself, am I turning into someone else? I’m praying that I don’t forget just who I am. I really wanna understand”
While not the most original and creative track, we can definitely appreciate the message behind it. But the talking monologue just sounds incredibly cheesy and takes away from the excellent background vocals,it’s great production and the message of the song: growing up.
“And it won’t slow down, no matter what you do, so you just gotta hold on, all we can do is hold on, yeah”
As we enter the deluxe track territory, the first that this track brings up is, why the hell isn’t this on the album? could easily replace some of the weaker tracks on the album. But we’re not complaining, it’s beautiful nonetheless.
“But I got you this rose, and I need to know. Will you let it die or let it grow? Die or let it go?”
So far Shawn has plead throughout this entire album and continues to do so on Roses, as the album ends on a fairly right note.
8.5 out of 10 Stars(8.5 / 10)
Illuminate is the rite of passage for Shawn, both for this professional and personal life. He is no longer the kid getting beat up by an invisible entity in the parking lot. This Shawn is a mature musician who digs deep and brings the words on paper to life. At just 18 year old, Illuminate is an excellent effort, a taste of what’s yet to come. Illuminate is an incredible album. Go Get IT NOW!.