Shawn Mendes Loses His Edge (Yes, He Had Edge)

Shawn Mendes absorbed the influences of the artists and songwriters he worked with on “Shawn Mendes.”

On his last album, “Illuminate,” the young pop singer and guitarist Shawn Mendes found a way to invigorate conventional pop-rock with agitation. On a troika of excellent singles — “Treat You Better,” “Mercy” and “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” — he sang with punch and vigor, chopping his round voice into something spikier and more tense.

This is, as pop goes, a valid identity innovation — a small tweak to convention that pays disproportionate reward. It made Mr. Mendes, a former Vine star, into one of the most significant and promising rising stars in pop.

Mr. Mendes, now 19, is releasing his third album this week, and it is self-titled, the kind of midcareer gesture that’s generally meant to indicate a fresh start after years of misdirection.


But this is a different sort of clean slate. “Shawn Mendes” is appealing if not wholly engaging, full of pleasantly anonymous songs that systematically obscure Mr. Mendes’s talents. Though he has a writing credit on each song, like tofu, he adopts the flavor of the songwriters he’s collaborating with. In pop, the songwriting machines work at full speed, even if the pop-star talent — like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran — are off their album cycles. That makes this album feel like a collection of homeless songs for which Mr. Mendes is merely a vehicle.

Some of them succeed. The bright, clean guitars on “In My Blood” are piercing, and when the song swells midway and Mr. Mendes finds the scratched-up outer limits of his voice, it’s bracing. But the song’s blend of intimacy and exuberance feels on loan from Harry Styles.

When Mr. Mendes works with very established songwriters, he’s even more susceptible to mimicry. One of the writers of “Fallin’ All in You” is Ed Sheeran, and when Mr. Mendes sings it, he follows Mr. Sheeran’s bread crumb trail, pulling back from syllables in the same fashion, and easing willingly into the slow blues that Mr. Sheeran adores.

Compare that to “Nervous,” written in part by the reliable current hitmaker Julia Michaels, who writes bubbly melodies full of gaps and pauses that Mr. Mendes takes to eagerly. Or “Particular Taste,” written in part by Ryan Tedder (and which fortunately doesn’t resemble tracks by Mr. Tedder’s band, OneRepublic) which comes off like an acoustic-EDM, Prince-manque commercial jingle. Mr. Mendes sounds just as at home on it.

Mr. Mendes has always had a malleable talent, but the turf he claimed so assiduously on his last album is all but ceded here. Though these songs vary stylistically — he produced much of the album with Teddy Geiger, as well — they have a couple of things in common: They don’t push Mr. Mendes’s voice particularly hard, and they maintain a gloomy mood (though without his former tartness). Mr. Mendes is forlorn, and the most notable songs here are the ones about disappointing lovers (“Mutual,” “Where Were You in the Morning?”). But perhaps Mr. Mendes is so focused on his heart that he’s no longer concerned about his voice.

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