Review: Shawn Mendes Experiments With Style and Themes in Album Wonder, Albeit Unsuccessfully

Like countless other artists in 2020, Shawn Mendes has attempted to reinvent himself with his new album “Wonder”. He explores more mature lyrics, style, and overall aesthetics—a huge shift from his last three, sappy albums. However, does Mendes actually deliver on his ambitions?

Well, not really.

Released on December 4, Mendes’s fourth studio album focuses on the theme of freedom. The aesthetic combines emotional vocals with images of nature’s beauty in an attempt to appear self-reflective and profound. Instead, Mendes’s highly anticipated release is just a mishmash of forgettable songs. Yawn.

The biggest problem with Mendes’s overall execution is that the album lacks cohesion. Throughout much of his promotional content (music videos, album covers, etc.), Mendes clearly aims for a surreal vintage vibe yet ends up with a few songs that fit the bill. It’s not like songs under the same theme can’t be different stylistically, but the change from surreal to heavily sexual/physical is abrupt and distorts the overall mood of the album. Additionally, there are many drastic shifts in mood from one track to the next: the jump from peacefully sinking in the ocean in the title song “Wonder” to ominously sensual instrumentals and redundant lyrics in “Higher” comes to mind.

These shortcomings are amplified when you take a look at Mendes’s previous albums. “Illuminate” (2016) does a much better job with style and aesthetic blending. Mendes establishes a mellow and comforting atmosphere through the soft acoustics of his guitar and piano. Although the themes in “Illuminate” are more generic, they were at least evident in the final product. The same cannot be said for “Wonder”.

The album’s flaws do not stop with the overall lack of cohesion. Unfortunately, there are aspects of Mendes’s individual songs, from clunky instrumentals to repetitive harmonies, that are also worthy of criticism. Take “24 Hours,” where Mendes croons about the prospect of marriage. Not only does the synth jingle at the beginning feel out of place, but the overall melody lacks complexity. Listening to the instrumentals, it’s blatantly obvious that the piano’s note progression consists purely of a scale first in descending then ascending order. It doesn’t help that Mendes stays almost completely on one note throughout the song. “Wonder” includes many songs—“Can’t Imagine,” “Higher,” “Dream,” and more—that suffer the same fate as “24 Hours.” They’re all boring, repetitive, or both, in terms of musical composition.

To give Mendes credit, “Wonder” does bring an interesting experimentation of themes to the table, but a failure to deliver on these concepts unfortunately brings down the entire album. Even so, it’s good to see Mendes try to take his music to a deeper level, and despite all the negative (and sometimes joking) comments made about the album, “Wonder” is a good place to start for someone who has been producing relatively similar music for their entire career. Mendes definitely has room to grow with the new direction he’s taking and will hopefully be able to achieve greater heights with his next album.

As a whole, “Wonder” is a solid 3/5 stars. Mendes has promising ideas, but he doesn’t yet know how to execute them with the right sophistication and cohesion.