Of all the Billboard chart action racked up by The Weeknd, Drake and Justin Bieber last December it was the inclusion of Shawn Mendes’ Stitches’ track off his 2015 `Handwritten’ debut album, which caught the industry’s attention. And now with the release of `Illuminate’, Mendes is set to continue that momentum. The success of “Treat You Better” has already created a buzz of expectancy about this release and the 15 tracks here (if you count the acoustic version of “Mercy” as a separate track”) provide a classy continuation of his “Handwritten” debut. The format is pretty well the same, plaintive mid-tempo vocal arrangements supported by sparse guitar and piano. A format that also works well for Ed Sheeran and it’s hardly surprising that Sheeran’s main producer, Jake Gosling, also works as the main producer on this record. The on-going positive criteria here is the honest of Mendes’ vocal and instrumental delivery. Everything is in the song, his pure vocals, his simplistic but honest lyrical message. A constant theme about growing up as a teenager, battling, and not always winning, romantic relationships.
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Of the 15 tracks featured on `Illuminate’ deluxe version (12 on the standard version – all co-written by Mendes), it’s actually quite surprising that a good deal of the material is about negative relationships with tracks like “Honest”, “Three Empty Words” and the abusive tone of “Treat You Better” are overshadowing more upbeat tracks like “Lights On” and “Bad Reputation”. The record’s hightlight is the five-minute “Understand” with a mid-song rap where Mendes explains his feelings about remaining true to himself even as his pending stardom threatens to overshadow his former lifestyle. Also effective is “Hold On” which gives credit to his parent’s influence in keeping Mendes grounded. Cast by the media as Justin Bieber’s alter ego, Mendes has succeeded in keeping his image positive, even as he tours the world with Taylor Swift or headlines his own world tour. Great songs and great performances trump attitude and hype any day!
Download: “Treat You Better”, “Understand”, “Mercy”