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Shawn Mendes’ Illuminate Isn’t So Bright

Illuminate Album Review

Photo Courtesy of Disney| ABC Television Group

Photo Courtesy of Disney| ABC Television Group

Sierra Blanco, Staff Writer

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Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes started from humble beginnings as an amateur musician turned Viner. His love for music and the encouragement he received on Vine prompted him to post additional videos of himself on Youtube. He eventually developed a strong following which led to the release of his first hit single “Life of The Party.” Since then, he has made it big, dropping his first album Handwritten in 2015 and recently releasing his second, Illuminate, in September. 

Though he’s received harsh criticism from some, those who fans of Mendes have been highly anticipating the release of  Illuminate after the commercial success Handwritten which debuted at number one on Billboard charts. On September 23,2016 Mendes released Illuminate, worldwide. Mendes says he decided to write the songs because he was inspired by heartbreak and the darker aspects of life. Initially, he dropped two singles back in June, Treat You Better and Ruin via Itunes, and the lyrics in both reflect this more serious, mature shift in focus.

Regardless, most of Illuminate’s tracks still feature the musical style he’s known for. The beats are typical pop fare, and most tracks are catchy and danceable. On other tracks, the tempo remains energetic while Mendes delivers contrasting lyrics that are intended to be heartbreaking. He is clearly attempting to be more honest and personal on this album.

However, Mendes has a long way to go before anyone will consider him a songwriter of substance. One of the singles he released before dropping the album, “Treat You Better”, was the best of the bunch. The lyrics were more authentic and well crafted than they are on other tracks. The melody is characteristically upbeat and appealing. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t deliver the emotional depth Mendes seems to be reaching for, and this is his best work so far.

In general, the rest of the album was listenable, while unremarkable. Mendes’ vocals were consistently solid, though his ambitions outweigh his capability here as well. At times,  he is apparently influenced by Gospel traditions, yet doesn’t have the range or power to make the most of this style. His voice is never striking – it’s just polished. His lyrics are fairly trite and not nearly as insightful as Mendes yearns for them to be. This is a great example of how trying too hard can highlight weaknesses that probably would have been overlooked. Despite Mendes’ articulated desire to produce more serious music, his approach comes over as sentimental self-indulgence.

Overall, Illuminate doesn’t live up to the artist’s promise of an introspective journey. It’s simply a trip right back to his first album, Handwritten. If you’re a dedicated Shawn Mendes fan, you’ll probably love it. If not, then only two songs, “Treat You Better” and “Ruin” are worth checking out. For anyone who found Mendes’s first effort annoying or boring, Illuminate is just more of the same, so don’t bother giving him a second chance.

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Shawn Mendes’ Illuminate Isn’t So Bright