May is turning into a banner month for new albums from young, good-looking, sensitive singer-songwriters with awesome falsettos. First came Charlie Puth, and now comes his tour mate Shawn Mendes.
Mendes’ self-titled third album follows his successes with “Handwritten” and “Illuminate,” which both topped the Billboard 200 albums chart. The new one should do that, too, deservedly and with ease.
Like Puth, Mendes has a knack for pop hooks, but “Shawn Mendes” has a quieter, funkier and more soulful vibe. On the sensitive scale, Mendes might actually beat Puth: The 19-year-old is more introspective, fragile and yearning here than the more cocky Puth’s first-rate “Voicenotes.”
The album opens unconventionally for a pop collection, with Mendes fighting depression in the Kings of Leon-sounding rocker “In My Blood” (“Laying on the bathroom floor/Feeling nothing/I’m overwhelmed and insecure”).
Mendes — who plays Summerfest in Milwaukee on July 5 — gets into a welcome R&B groove with the lovely, aching “Lost in Japan” and goes on to admit self-consciousness in “Nervous” and vulnerability in “Where Were You in the Morning?” The quirky “Particular Taste” shows Mendes ready to experiment with form — and romantic partners.
He’s unsure of a lover’s commitment on “Mutual” and, in the spare “Wise,” asks, “Why can’t we just get over ourselves?”
Mendes gets songwriting help from frequent collaborators Teddy Geiger, Scott Harris and Geoff Warburton, and perhaps their best song together is the aching “Because I Had You,” for which Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic also has a writing credit.
If “Fallin’ All In You” sounds very much like an Ed Sheeran jam, that’s because Mendes co-wrote it with Sheeran and Johnny McDaid of Snow Patrol. The ballad even has Sheeran’s distinct cadences, but yet, stubbornly, doesn’t really stand out. “Like to Be You,” featuring Julia Michaels, also underwhelms.
That’s certainly not the case when Mendes teams up with Khalid on “Youth,” a stunningly beautiful union of two of the most exciting millennial voices pushing back against the old order, singing “You can’t take my youth away/This soul of mine will never break.”