Review: Austin Mahone, ‘The Secret (EP)’
The Secret proves to be an enjoyable and sound introduction to Austin Mahone
Maturity seems to be a portion of the formula that burgeoning pop singer Austin Mahone is opting for in both his career and on his debut EP, The Secret. Just examine the cover of the EP; the once diamond-studded Mahone is earring-less and seems focused on his presentation to the audience. After viewing some of Mahone’s YouTube videos throughout the years, the kid always seemed to have maturity, a hunger, and passion about him.
In other words, he seems to eschew recklessness in favor of stability and maintaining a wholesomeness – at least at the initial stages of a career. That’s not a bad plan considering Mahone is still elevating his profile and succeeding in the cutthroat business of music is very tricky. If you’re too conservative you’re a bore while if you’re too controversial, you offend the audience. On The Secret, Mahone is conservative enough – not dare even touching anything profane – but also has swag.
“Till I Find You” opens The Secret energetically, embracing modern pop cues, with touches of urban sensibilities as well. Overall, the cut is irresistibly catchy – expectedly so. The core audience is teens (particularly teen girls), but even with clean-cut innocence, it might/should also appeal to mature pop audiences. Mahone’s vocals have certainly developed and deepened since he first bowed a couple of years back, a pro of waiting to release his first EP. It’s not the second coming in pop music, but it’s a solid way for Mahone to kick off his career.
“Next To You” maintains a ‘mean’ sound, embracing elements of EDM. Filled with swagger, “Next To You” feels like the perfect match for a youthful pop artist a la 2014. With some gimmicks here and there (“But we know that tears never lie-ie-ie”), irresistible melodic hook, and characterized as hyper-rhythmic, “Next To You” has some nice pieces working in its favor.
“Mmm Yeah” is arguably the main attraction from The Secret. Pairing the teen-pop star with Pitbull, “Mmm Yeah” exemplifies current trends in pop music, sporting a commercial sound that’s danceable, catchy, and appealing. Slickly produced, the drums are heavy, the overall sound describable as driving. At the end of his vocal phrases, gimmicky effects confirm the contemporary vibe of the cut. Is it ‘schmaltz central’?
“When I saw her / walking down the street / she looked so fine / I just had to speak / I asked her name / but she turned away / as she walked / all that I could say was / Mmm Mmm, yeah yeah…”
Perhaps, but also incredibly fun.
The title track “Secret” opens with rhythmically with effects-laden vocals. The drums pound while the synths are sleek. Mahone doesn’t fight the production work, with his voice coming off clearly, particularly in his upper register. Mahone’s vocals are on the thin side, but pleasantly so; his vocal development of the past few years truly has elevated his appeal and level of musicianship in the game. “Secret” continues to argue the case for Mahone as pop’s next big thing, even if it isn’t the best or most distinct track on the EP.
“Can’t Fight This Love” keeps the tempo quick, eschewing balladry five tracks in. Keeping things quicker paced isn’t a bad thing in the least, as the thinking seems to be about portraying the youthful artists as one packed with energy who is cool and hip. Arguably Mahone’s biggest risk comes here as he finally unveils some falsetto. Mahone’s falsetto is still developing – as are his pipes – but even being smaller in quality, it is nice to hear him extending his range vocally.
Speaking of balladry, the fine “All I Ever Need” delivers The Secret a contemporary R&B-styled ballad. The tempo smartly isn’t too slow, still maintaining that ‘energy’ Team Mahone seems to be going for. And that falsetto alluded to on “Can’t Fight This Love”, well it truly shines here, floating atop generally restrained, tasteful production. How much swag does this young man have? He includes a breakdown section that would surely make Usher proud, singing with drums towards the end of the song. “All I Ever Need”, hence, ends up being a personal favorite that fully shows Mahone’s artistic potential.
Two bonus tracks grace The Secret: “The One I’ve Waited For” and “Shadow (Acoustic)”. On “The One I’ve Waited For”, it’s great to hear some acoustic instrumentation: acoustic guitar and acoustic piano. This particular song has more of a mature, adult-oriented pop sound. It doesn’t end up sounding older than Mahone, thanks to mixing old- and new- school once the pop groove enters in. Melodically, there are some excellent choices in regards to ad-libbing.
That said, as Mahone continues to burgeon, he can break away from the melody even more. Closing joint “Shadow (Acoustic)” is another mature pop record from Mahone, contrasting the synth-based productions characterizing the majority of this EP. Mahone achieves some vocal grit, showing his most assertive vocals of the effort.
All in all, The Secret accomplishes its purpose; it successfully introduces Austin Mahone as the pop-star/heartthrob ‘who’s got next’. The Secret shouldn’t be considered the year’s ‘best album’ or anything like that (I’m sure the Mahomies might have something to say about that), but it is a good, solid start for the upstart. If nothing else, The Secret makes the listener anticipate what a full-length Austin Mahone album will sound like. Mahone has certainly come a long way since his “Say Somethin’” days.
Gems: “Till I Find You,” “Mmm Yeah” ft. Pitbull & “All I Ever Need”