Shawn Mendes

Illuminate

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Shawn Mendes translated his Vine superstardom into genuine pop stardom in 2015 thanks to "Stitches," a lively piece of pop with a slightly soulful undercurrent. Wisely, Mendes and his team decide to play off these soulful inclinations on Illuminate, the album released almost 18 months after his 2015 debut Handwritten. This isn't to say that Mendes is a crooner, nor is he riding anything resembling a funky groove. Instead, Illuminate uses light R&B rhythms as a way to give a bit of grace and warmth, the airiness of "Ruin" and "Three Empty Words" spinning heartbreak into seduction. As it turns out, this wide-eyed puppy dog routine is the key to Mendes' appeal. He's not forceful, and whenever he slides into a loverman routine, there's never a sense that he's a player: his voice is so small and sweet, it feels as if he's whispering sweet nothings to his high school sweetheart. On Handwritten, such quivering sensitivity seemed tentative, but on Illuminate, it has gelled into his pop persona; he's charming because he embraces his ordinariness. Sometimes on Illuminate the songs are a bit too diffuse to benefit from these qualities -- whenever they lack a hook or pronounced melody, the tracks tend to drift -- but a lot of the record provides a good showcase for his tenderness. And these aren't necessarily ballads, either. Certainly, he feels at home on a nice slow-burning torch number like "Don't Be a Fool" -- an old-fashioned slice of swaying '60s soul -- but on the insistent pop of "Treat You Better" and sunny seaside vibes of "Honest," this boyishness is equally appealing, and those sly shifts in tone are why Mendes comes into his own on Illuminate.

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