If you’d said to us at the beginning of the year that Shawn Mendes – he of that awful Stitches song and looking like the generic white male from both 13 Reasons Why and Love, Simon – would be the greatest beacon of male pop in 2018… well, we’d have laughed at you.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s the usual dross you’d expect from Shawn Mendes: The Album, one that unsurprisingly outstays its welcome. We’ll get that out of the way first, especially as In My Blood is a stadium-bait opener that doesn’t do its singer justice. In an odd way they seem like a eulogy to his past, given those Snow Patrol guitars barely figure again across the record’s 14 tracks (although, surprise surprise, there are still watery ballads galore).
But Lost In Japan kicks Shawn Mendes – both man and album – into gear. It’s a smooth, controlled performance that oozes charisma and foxtrots with its melody; more to the point it does what every great male pop star should, delivering charm with sex appeal without ever seeming threatening. He recreates that with added vulnerability on both Where Were You In The Morning? and even creates an adequate balance with Julia Michaels on the understated duet Like To Be You.
With a plodding mid-section it’s hard to understand why Shawn Mendes still comes out sparkling on this album. Nothing he does is drastically different – Particular Taste has been heard many a week on Spotify playlists – and his voice is never pushed beyond a level register. Lyrically too, Because I Had You is so deliberately aimed at the accessible teen crowd that it ends up being a bit slight.
But it’s a bravura third act that doesn’t leave your head, thanks to the input of Joel Little on Queen and Youth. The latter, featuring Khalid, was recently used as a powerful anti-gun statement, and it reminds us that Shawn Mendes can use his platform for good while delivering some pleasant bops that’ll no doubt widen his appeal. He may not be the second coming – or indeed third or fourth – at the moment, but there’s enough here for us not to dismiss Shawn Mendes as a teenybop fad.