Shawn Mendes, “Shawn Mendes” (Island)
On his last album, “Illuminate,” the young Canadian pop singer found a way to invigorate conventional pop-rock with agitation. On three 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 a valid identity innovation — a small tweak to convention that pays disproportionate reward. It made Mendes into one of the more significant and promising rising stars in pop.
Now 19, he is releasing his third album, 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. The album is appealing if not wholly engaging, full of pleasantly anonymous songs that systematically obscure Mendes’ talents. Though he has a writing credit on each song, 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 Mendes is merely a vehicle.
Some of them succeed. The bright, clean guitars on “In My Blood” are piercing, and when 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 Mendes works with established songwriters, he’s even more susceptible to mimicry. When he sings “Fallin’ All in You,” he follows co-writer Sheeran’s breadcrumb trail, pulling back from syllables in the same fashion, and easing willingly into the slow blues that Sheeran adores.
Compare that with “Nervous,” co-written by Julia Michaels, who writes bubbly melodies full of gaps and pauses that Mendes takes to eagerly. Or “Particular Taste,” co-written by Ryan Tedder, which comes off like an acoustic-EDM, Prince-manque commercial jingle. Mendes sounds just as at home on it.
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, they have a couple of things in common: They don’t push Mendes’ voice particularly hard, and they maintain a gloomy mood (though without his former tartness). Mendes is forlorn, and the most notable songs here are the ones about disappointing lovers (“Mutual,” “Where Were You in the Morning?”). But perhaps Mendes is so focused on his heart that he’s no longer concerned about his voice.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
Chvrches, “Love Is Dead” (Glassnote)
With their third album, this Scottish synth-pop trio brazenly embraces their commercial pop side. Whereas previous records had mixed rousing singles such as “The Mother We Share” and “Bury It” with artsy and insular tracks that foregrounded their seriousness, “Love Is Dead” is full of widescreen anthems. For the first time, the trio brought in outside producers, most notably hitmaker Greg Kurstin (Adele, Pink).
While the music is relentlessly hook-filled with reliably explosive choruses, the lyrics offer a conflicted view of love, often accusatory or questioning. And the National’s dour Matt Berninger drops in for an argumentative duet with Lauren Mayberry, “My Enemy.” “Love Is Dead” is sometimes heavy-handed in both its joyful tone and cynical sentiments, but the friction is often fascinating.
STEVE KLINGE, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Neko Case, “Hell-On”
• Roger Daltrey, “As Long As I Have You”
• Father John Misty, “God’s Favorite Customer”
• Owl City, “Cinematic”
• Kanye West, “Love Everyone”
• Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johanssen, “Apart”