Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Handwritten | Shawn Mendes

I thought the Shawn Mendes craze was over.

Vine – known for granting popularity to the talented and untalented alike – is the catalyst for Mendes' fame, after he regularly posted seven second acoustic covers to the app. His debut full-length, Handwritten, debuted atop the Billboard 200 in April before falling hard in its second week with a record-breaking 89% sales decrease. Somewhat surprisingly, though, his career revived itself as Taylor Swift nabbed him as an opening act for her 1989 World Tour and his eight month old single "Stitches" took off on American airwaves. The song currently sits at number five on the Billboard Hot 100. So, has this second life brought new attention to an album that matches the quality of his radio hit?

Eh, not really.

Guitar in hand, Mendes is ready for the title of a teen acoustic pop phenomenon; a junior replica of Ed Sheeran, if you will. Sheeran, however, has created a perception that all acoustic and light pop albums are intimate and produced almost entirely by one set of hands – a perception that isn't true with these up-and-coming kids. Sabrina Carpenter, Bea Miller, and Mendes all play mean poker faces with their vocals but rely on large behind-the-scenes teams. Mendes is credited for his hand in the creation of nine cuts on the twelve-track album.

So much of this album is stuck in a mid-tempo, acoustic dirge. The standard edition clocks in at just under 40 minutes, and that's about 20 minutes longer than is necessary. A finger can be pointed to his producers; too much focus is put on Mendes' voice – which sounds like a good concept based on his cover snippets, but the album reveals that his voice really isn't something to be spotlighted constantly for 40 minutes – and the hooks are disappointingly underdeveloped when compared to "Stitches" and "Something Big." Subtle climaxes fail in tracks like "Aftertaste" and "Strings," while they never come at all, despite being expected, in "Air" and "Never Be Alone."

Seven second installments of Mendes' acoustic works aren't bad, but the translation of those clips into a full-feature is pretty rocky. On the bright side, he is only 17 years old, so there's hope for him. With the right productions behind him, he should be able to craft an interesting body of work in the future. It seems that for his first outing, he was just too afraid to leave the warm companionship of his guitar. Post-puberty Justin Bieber has proven that guys with inflexible voices can produce interesting music, so now we just have to sit back and wait for Mendes to take notes.

Handwritten is out now under Island Records. Exclusive pressings can be found at Walmart and Target department stores.

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