The past year has been something of a roller-coaster for Zayn Malik. A year ago, he broke millions of fans’ hearts when he announced he would be leaving One Direction to pursue the life of a ‘normal 22 year old’. It later emerged that he had been secretly recording solo material and his animosity towards his boyband days was soon made crystal clear in numerous interviews in which he took multiple swipes at the band and their music. A shock split with fiancée Perrie Edwards soon followed in addition to multiple venomous and highly publicised Twitter spats. Still, these potential career suicide-moments have been long forgotten since lead single ‘PILLOWTALK‘ rocketed in to the top of the charts of over a dozen countries.
As expected, ‘Mind of Mine’ is a world away from Malik’s One Direction days. Gone is the pop-punk and stadium-pop and in is alternative R&B, catchy dance-pop and elements of Soul. It’s slick, polished, consistent and mature with reverberating vocal samples, hip-hop beats and effect-drenched vocals scattered throughout. It’s a natural transition into R&B music similarly to Justin Timberlake’s début ‘Justified’ fourteen years ago.
‘Mind of Mine’ excels from start to finish with barely a blip. Overall, it possesses a moody and brooding tone with sexualized lyrics and a deeply-textured sound, resulting in a cohesive catalogue of material on which Malik revels in his newly-found freedom. Lead single ‘PILLOWTALK’ remains a stand-out track with its its thunderous percussion, reverberating synths, wailing guitars and Zayn’s sweeping vocals. The rest of the album follows suit with the sullen yet dreamy ‘dRuNk‘ featuring Malik’s multi-layered harmonies boasting ‘I’ve been drunk all summer’ over unsettled R&B percussion, summery synthesisers and weeping electric guitars. ‘rEaR vIeW‘ is similarly a sulky progressive R&B track with sparse production and a Timbaland-like chorus. Then there’s the beautifully haunting ‘iT’s YoU‘ – a gentle downtempo ballad on which Zayn’s stunning falsetto soars over jittering synths, a droning organ, hip-hop beats and crunching piano chords.
Just when things need shaking up a bit, the Beatle-esque piano chords of ‘fOoL fOr YoU‘ arrive. It’s a pleasant piano ballad on which Malik’s vocals really glisten and are relatively free of the over-production the rest of the album is laden with. The track mirrors The Beatles in both song-writing and production and it punctuates the album nicely.
Malik also refreshingly incorporates his cultural heritage into the album in the form of haunting interludes. The opening title-track features soaring Qawwali-influenced melodies over piano chords and clonking synthesiser arpeggios. Similarly, one of the album’s unexpected highlights is ‘fLoWer‘, a gorgeous acoustic interlude influenced by Malik’s upbringing as a British Pakistani Muslim. He executes his voice in Urdu, his father’s native language and warbles over eerie synthesisers and gentle acoustic guitars. It’s an innovative and utterly unique inclusion on an R&B album which works perfectly.
The dance-pop moments also work well, implemented best on ‘sHe‘ with its brilliantly catchy hook, slick production and buoyant production. It is miles away from the stadium pop-rock One Direction produced and is a steer in the right direction (pun not intended), reminiscent of some of Justin Bieber’s best moments on ‘Purpose’. Then there’s the soulful ‘tRuTh’, a track reminiscent of 70’s Soul with giggling synthesisers, a retro-guitar sound and distorted production. Featuring a brilliantly sunny chorus with sugary falsettos, it’s one of the album’s understated highlights.
Malik always had the advantage of having the strongest voice in One Direction and he exhibits his syrupy vocals perfectly on the album. His vocals are sturdy and powerful throughout, whilst his falsetto is his real gift, fluttering delicately over meticulously programmed instrumentals.
A bold and compelling album which validates Zayn’s transition into a credible recording artist.
Highlights: ‘PILLOWTALK’, ‘dRuNk’, ‘iT’s YoU’, ‘sHe’, ‘fLoWer’, ‘tRuTh’
‘Mind of Mine’ is available now on RCA Records.