I know I’m a little late to the party, but I can explain! I was apprehensive to give Shawn my full listening attention until recently. I was unsure of the true art that could come of it since he’s a “youtube” star, has mostly teenage girl fans, and in general didn’t seem like a serious musical contender. Well, I happily admit that I was wrong. Handwritten is a double dose of Ed Sheeran – meets – Bieber – in a studio with Gavin DeGraw and One Direction. The production on the opening track sets a high precedent that is held by most of the rest of the album. This guitar driven mega-pop album is not to be missed. At 15 tracks on the deluxe album, Shawn has filled my Facebook friends’ timelines via Spotify for the past two weeks.
I first decided to listen when I needed a calm record to wind down on a Sunday night. The first track, “Life of the Party”, had me thinking it would be an over produced dance track. Frankly I can’t think of anything else but Prince’s song of the same name when I read those words .Turns out it’s an empowering song about being yourself because, well, who cares what they think! Shawn’s voice greets you warmly with heartfelt lyrics telling you that “we don’t have to be ordinary.” Once I heard that I was in the for the long haul. The piano is strong, steady, and his voice flows over the chorus with ease. The beat comes in subtly and then BAM – the second chorus lifts you up. The booming drums and strings bolster Shawn’s voice bringing further dimension to the song as we move into the bridge. Hey, who wouldn’t want Shawn egging you on to “come out tonight?”
The next song “Stitches,” a single from the album, is the catchy love/hate pop tune you’re expecting from today’s pop superstars. The track bounces up and down and makes me wanna do the hand jive – but with a scowl on my face because I need stitches. The lyrics aren’t that cliche. They work quite well, hanging in the grey area between trendsetting and recycled. I must say, I love the reverse cymbals in this track.
The album moves confidently from high to low BPMs, giving the listener a chance to get excited, then reflect, then get excited, then just feel, and feel a lot. Shawn’s vocal range isn’t huge but he jumps from high to low register easily and when he gets to belting or his head voice – the feels come on strong. Shawn, y so heartfelt!? So good.
The track “Kid in Love” is in my top 3. The cadence of the lyrics and melody is so soothing. I think we all just want to be kids in love. Shawn, we CAN be kids in love forever! When the beat drops, the song goes from country to urban real quick. Not to say Drake will hop on the track, but the beat hits in all the right spots. This song will forever be a song I play when I’m feeling the pressure of the “real world.” Stay gold Ponyboy.
I get strong Gavin DeGraw vibes on the track “I Don’t Even Know Your Name.” Maybe it’s Warburton’s writing style. A horn section makes a cameo on this track, warming up the cold feeling of that missed connection Shawn’s singing about.
Track 6, “Something Big,” has been stuck in my head for days. This song is very reminiscent of Sheeran’s writing and lyrical style. It gets you hyped for something big that’s about to happen. It’s easy to remember the lyrics. Albeit, the bridge lyrics are probably the most cliche on the album, that’s why this song has such a broad reach. I will admit this gets me excited! I just wish he would use his belting voice a little longer on the bridge. The song ramps you up over and over again only to let your feelings explode every time the refrain comes around. I can see why this is a big stadium hit.
“Strings” comes out of the box sounding like an acoustic version of itself. Another very Sheeran sounding track. How have they not written together? It’s good to hear a song about committed romantic feelings in a world of glorified casual sex. I applaud Mendes & his team for including this on the album. Mendes has his lyrical delivery on lock – I understand 99% of the words he’s firing off at light speed. When it wraps up into the bridge you are sucked into the song twice as much.
We’re treated to a familiar voice on “Air” – Astrid S lends her sweet vocals to the track and her and Shawn’s sound waves mingle effortlessly. It reminds me of a Colbie Caillat x John Mayer duet that should have happened in 2007. She sings with intention and Shawn provides a captivating rebuttal. The back and forth of the two singers makes for an intriguing duet.
On the final track, “The Weight,” we’re treated to Shawn’s beautifully clean alto register. Climbing all over the musical scale, we follow the story of a bittersweet relationship that’s plagued our hero with an unbearable weight. The way he says weight cuts right through the pain and leaves me rooting for Shawn’s emotional recovery. Maybe on the next album?
In conclusion, I’m now a full fledged Shawn Mendes fan. His talent and team really shines on this debut album and I hope they take a pace that won’t burn out the budding young star too fast. Check out Handwritten on Spotify and Apple Music today.
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Review by Chad Lightbody | @HoneyChrome