Shawn Mendes’ weary album ‘Wonder’ wanders far from wonderland

Photo of the cover of Shawn Mendes' album "Wonder"
Island Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

Three months ago, Shawn Mendes found a sweet spot with a striking single. “Wonder,” the titular track for his upcoming album, thrilled as an orchestral, contemporary balance of awe and beauty. It was a hopeful indication of growth for the pop artist — yet, on Mendes’ fourth studio album Wonder, this imagination is nowhere to be found.

Released Dec. 4, Wonder drearily drudges through mediocrity and monotony. Very few songs reach their full potential, weighed down by bland lyricism or poor compositional elements that are intended to be experimental. Sorely disappointing to say the least, Wonder serves as a vapid reiteration of Mendes’ most underwhelming works about love.

Mendes’ thriving relationship with Camila Cabello has been anything but private in the last few years, and while Wonder is understandably inspired by their romance, it’s a one-dimensional and painfully predictable take on their love. Mendes struggles to translate joy into innovation, resorting to some of the most prosaic lyricism of his career.

He personifies Cabello as “my sunlight on a rainy day” and likens their relationship to “walking through a meadow full of sunflowers.” By the time listeners reach the album’s final song, Mendes is still explaining how “all the birds would stop their songs” if he and Cabello weren’t together.

To put it quite simply, Wonder grows tiresome with its incessantly sappy qualities. Yes, Mendes’ discography is mostly love songs, but what’s sorely missing from Wonder is innovation. It’s brimming with clichés, and no matter how affectionate or genuine Mendes might be, the songs come across as so mawkish that they’re nearly eye bag-inducing.

Although Mendes consistently confuses repetition for cohesion, the album’s trajectory does occasionally change. He briefly finds purpose on the soothing but forgettable “Monster” with Justin Bieber, as the pop stars detail the struggles of fame. Stardom is also the subject of “Call My Friends,” in which Mendes vaguely reflects on the sacrifices he made for his career. Cushioned by overwhelming instrumentals, the chorus is supposed to be grandiose and emotional, but it instead feels whiny and wailing.

Wonder so desperately wants to sound majestic, but with the exception of the extravagant title track, the album is plain and tedious. The abrupt drum roll followed by an instrumental break in “Song for No One” can’t fill the song’s emptiness, and the lazy reverberating synths of “Dream” fail to redeem the song’s banal verses. Mendes attempts to make up for lackluster lyricism with surprise beat drops or impressive high notes, but his falsetto is unable to save most songs from their descents into the mundane. With a weak execution of what might have been an originally creative vision, the album feels like it’s caving in on itself.

However, in its desperation to stand out as different, Wonder stumbles across occasional bright spots. Sassy songs “Higher” and “Piece of You” edge near marginal success, and though it loses its momentum, the superb production on “Always Been You” almost matches the excitement on “Wonder.” Elsewhere, “Look Up at the Stars” and “24 Hours” are decent, heartfelt ballads, but neither exude particularly notable passion or creativity.

For the most part, these fleeting moments of relief tend to only remind listeners of the album’s squandered potential. Mendes strangely overlooks the most infectious moments of his songs — the fading repetition of “about you” in “Dream,” the bridge in “Teach Me How To Love” — and leaves listeners disappointed.

The album’s introductory and title tracks are Mendes’ only saving graces. They begin gentle and tender, then are suddenly jolted into tantalizing galvanism. For just four minutes, Mendes revels in this cinematic glory, and his listeners do, too. But shortly after this thrill, Wonder reverts to dreariness. It haphazardly molds wholehearted love into meaningless pulp and dull disappointment.

Mendes said it himself on his introductory track: “So I guess I’ll have a chance to/ Get lost in wonderland.” And he’s right — he had the chance. He just didn’t take it.

Contact Taila Lee at [email protected].