Audiences were first introduced to teenage heart-throb Shawn Mendes through the popular six-second video app Vine, where he mastered the art of capturing young girl’s hearts with his impressive guitar and vocal skills. Although the videos only lasted six seconds, it was enough for Island records to snatch the teen pop-sensation and offer him a recording contract. Now, on the outset of 18, Shawn has released his second album ‘Illuminate’. With its John Mayer inspired melodies and true-to-the-heart lyrics, Illuminate is the perfect transition from naive, clean-cut kid to mature recording artist.
Illuminate begins with the track ‘Ruin’; not the strongest track in the album, but it encompasses the mood of the album and gives the audience a preview of what to expect from the other singles. This transitions into Shawn’s second debut single ‘Mercy’. Personally, this is my favourite track from the album. The soft hums that leave you riddled with goosebumps and the obvious passion from Mendes in the bridge, send out ‘Take me to church’ (Hozier) vibes. No doubt in my mind that this is one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Following that is ‘Treat you better’: Shawn’s first debut single for the album. This was the track that gave wider audiences the first taste of what was to come from Illuminate. It stayed true to Shawn’s previous work ‘Stitches’ and ‘A little too much’, while also demonstrating his newfound maturity and journey into adulthood. The continuing set list follows the pattern of “Pop, love-struck” ballads with singles like ‘No promises’ and ‘Lights on’ added to the mix to keep the rhythm flowing.
Speaking of ‘Lights on’, this is the most risqué track on the album, let alone Shawn’s discography. We are fooled at the beginning of the track by the “country-pop” guitar strums into thinking it’s going to be another ‘Treat you better’ kind of single; that’s until the pre-chorus comes around and we hear “And I can’t deny I want your body”. The chorus continues this sexual undertone with “I wanna love you with the lights on, keep you up all night long”. This is probably the biggest surprises in the album and is a major change from Shawn’s usual style of writing. However, it is an excellent example of Shawn’s growing maturity and shows audience his progression into adulthood. Jon Reyes from the ‘Idolator’ summarises this point perfectly, “[Shawn’s] most noticeable change, aside from the tight music hall sonics, is the subtle infusion of sex into the lyrics. He’s graduated from songs like ‘Kid in Love’ to fare like ‘Lights On’ and ‘Patience’”.
Another surprise from the album is in the track ‘Understand’. The cool element of this track is that instead of a “bridge”, Shawn added a short monologue. Keeping to the theme of the track, Shawn talks about the struggle of staying true to yourself as you grow and change into adulthood. It’s a nice touch and emphasises the honesty of the lyrics. Finally, the album concludes with ‘Hold on’ and ‘Roses’. ‘Hold on’ is the most personal track on the album. The single acts as an outlet for some of Shawn’s personal struggles with transitioning into a pop sensation and being on the road constantly. Hands down it contains the most touching and impactful lyrics from the album: “And my dad said, Shawn stay with me, everything will be alright. I know I haven’t seen you lately but you’re always on my mind”.
Throughout Illuminate, Shawn actively attempts to work outside of social music norms. Rather than using the “electronic/techno” backing tracks that are common among our generation, Shawn chooses to use “old-fashioned” instruments like acoustic guitar, piano and a backing choir. These instrumentals reinforce the themes of the songs (as seen in ‘Like this’ and ‘Three empty words’. The lyrics in Illuminate are what you expect to come from someone linked to artists like Justin Bieber, which reminds us that although this album sounds more mature, Shawn is still just an 18-year-old kid.
I would give this album a solid 4 out 5 stars on the “treblemaker scale”. There were a couple of tracks that were too slow for my personal taste, but overall the album was impressive and Shawn perfectly showcased his vocal and music ability, and his musical development. If I had to summarise the album, I would direct you to an interview with Mendes and Ryan Secrets who said, “Mendes’ album serves a soundtrack for the man stages of love”. In any case, if you are a fan of the pop genre, love a good ballad or you are just a person who appreciates good vocals, then this album will be for you.