Saturday Showdown: Leon Bridges and Shawn Mendes

Leon Bridges and Shawn Mendes

Written by Kevin Bessey and Tristan Olav Torgersen Leon Bridges
Images courtesy of Leon Bridges’ Official Facebook and Shawn Mendes’ Official Facebook.

In May Leon Bridges released his sophomore album “Good Thing”, a soulful urban album that adopts a lot of pop and alternative elements. Shawn Mendes released “Shawn Mendes”, an alternative pop album which adopts a lot of soulful urban elements. I thought both albums were very well executed. And, I find this cross pollination of music fascinating. I’ve invited Tristan Torgerson to join me in discussing both albums. We’ll discuss the quality of both albums, the overarching trend of cross genre music, and how well these albums combine influences.

Kevin: So, what are some of your thoughts on Good Thing?

Tristan: I will hold nothing back. I absolutely loved it. I’ve followed Leon Bridges since his single release of “River“, which first got him some major industry chatter. I enjoyed his first album, but Good Thing shows his maturity and songwriting have stepped up to the plate.

Kevin: I totally agree with the idea of his songwriting being very mature and technical. His voice really caught my ear as well. It’s at once charming and raspy. I love how much more on the nose and to the point his voice is than other soul singers. The songs are catchy but still leave a lot of elements too chew on over time. What are your initial thoughts on the Shawn Mendes album?

Tristan: I feel like the best part of reviewing both of these albums at once is that they are two takes on the same themes, love and relationships. I’m gonna be honest here, I’ve been slow to hop on the Shawn Mendes train. I really like the Shawn Mendes album though, and it is a testament to his songwriting and studio abilities to drop it only a year after Illuminate. He has some great songs that have chart power.

Kevin: I’m with you on being slow to jump on the Shawn Mendes train. I realized that he had some seriously catchy melodies. But, I thought that his writing before this album was immature and to be honest I didn’t initially take to his voice. It’s a weird voice to get used to. But, I feel like this album deals with love from a much more mature perspective while still maintaining his innocence in songs like “Like to Be You”. So, are you picking up what I’m putting down when I say that pop/alternative music is becoming more urban and that urban/soul music is becoming more alternative. I personally think that these two albums are quintessential examples of that trend. But, I’d love to hear your perspective.

Shawn Mendes playing guitar and singing
Shawn is too humble and nice to be clamoring for high praise.

Tristan: I remember when Shawn Mendes dropped Illuminate, I gave it a listen and wasn’t won over. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t all over it. That is fine by the way, no artist can reach everyone with success. A friend I had asked me why I didn’t like it and said, “If you like John Mayer, Shawn Mendes is the same type of music. Why would you like one and not the other?” For the record, John Mayer and Shawn Mendes have very little in common. I think like you’re saying though, he has a blend of heavier and soulful influences in the new album. If you compare “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” and “Lost in Japan, there’s a great divide. One of my other favorites, “Because I Had You solidified his journey into feeling and away from pop for pop’s sake.

Kevin: Okay for the record, I don’t think Shawn Mendes is in the same class as John Mayer. And, I don’t know if he ever will be. And, I don’t think that’s an insult to John Mayer, because Shawn Mendes would say the same thing. Shawn Mendes is definitely more focused on catchy vocals while John Mayer’s number one focus is playing great guitar. I think Lost in Japan is definitely the best track on the album. And, I feel like it represents his desire to bring in the vocal harmonies, groove, and urban feel. I see this trend with other artists like Foster The People, Charlie Puth, and Portugal The Man. And, I personally feel that Shawn Mendes has incorporated these elements better than anyone else in his genre, excluding John Mayer. So, what did you think about Leon Bridges incorporating alternative elements into his music?

Tristan: If there was one clear hang-up with Leon Bridges’ debut album Coming Home, it would be that it wasn’t catchy enough. While I loved “River,” “Smooth Sailing,” “Lisa Sawyer,” “Better Man,” and “Shine,” most of those songs never caught the attention of friends I showed them too. Leon did such a great job becoming the 21st-century Otis Redding and Sam Cooke that our generation didn’t know what to do with his music. Enter Good Thing and Bridges understands the role of alternative elements in modern music. I found with tracks like “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” he really took fresh looks at old sounds and made something great. The whole album felt like a motown/soul base paired with a talented producer to make it relevant and repeat-worthy. And trust me, I’ve listened to the whole thing probably 11-12 times since I first listened to it in mid-June.

Kevin: I feel like you’re on point with saying that the production incorporated some cool alternative elements. The way they filter his voice in songs like “Beyond” takes some serious notes from Jack White, The Killers, and other alternative legends. I felt like the bridge of that song could have just as easily been the bridge to an AJR song. I think this trend definitely started with Kanye West putting out Yeezus with Daft Punk. We saw that same alternative application to soul by Chance The Rapper with Coloring Book. But, I honestly feel that Leon Bridges is the first soul/motown artist to really bathe in that alternative fountain and embrace the facets that really draw people into the alternative scene. At the same time he isn’t truly crossing the genre which I think is so cool. He maintains what makes soul music special while learning from other genres.

Tristan: The first two tracks are definitely radio/chart snatchers that are just catchy and memorable. Then you have the hip and soulful “Shy,” the creative genius in “Forgive You,” and when you hit “Mrs.” you understand: Leon Bridges knows love. He uses soul and alternative genre-blending to deliver his message and his heart. And I love what you bring up, he is the first of his kind to blend and bathe in that seemingly disparate genre pool. I think that’s what he’s got with Good Thing. He delivers nostalgic soul with enough alt to bring new listeners in and hold those who already know and love his music. Now, in your opinion, in ten years which album will still feel fresh? Shawn Mendes or Leon Bridges?

Leon Bridges, American and Ambitious.
Leon, don’t go changing too much.

Kevin: Okay, in all honesty I feel like both will still feel fresh. Good Thing will probably feel a little fresher. I feel like Leon Bridges has found his lane and I want him to keep making music in that lane for many albums to come. I don’t think I can say the same for Shawn Mendes. He isn’t quite there yet. But, this was a MAJOR step in the right direction. “Lost In Japan” and “”Fallin’ All In You”” will be in my regular playlist for at least a few years.

Tristan: Definitely agree. And I gotta make this clear, SHAWN MENDES IS POPULAR. I mean, really popular. His songs have tens of millions more plays than Leon Bridges’ new album. Mendes has his pop constituency on lock, and they play his music like no one’s business. Yet, if we’re talking musicianship, sound, and voice, I can’t see myself putting aside Good Thing anytime soon. In a world of digital music, I am still a holdout with purchasing (especially vinyl). Good Thing is my next purchase.

Kevin: I’m with you. But, I would definitely recommend both albums. I want those who have a sour Shawn Mendes taste in their mouth to give this album a chance so they can discover the seriously groovalicious melodies. I want the pop addicts to discover the beautful musicianship that is Leon Bridges.


Check out both of their albums before you go!

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