Zayn delivers a brave debut, but misses fire
Although he probaby does not want us to remember him for it, Zayn Malik rose to fame in 2010 when he auditioned as a solo artist for X Factor UK. He was eliminated after a few rounds, but was brought back as one of the members of brand new boyband One Direction. Five years later, the boys had a lot of hits, but the singer announced his departure from the band, as he was not happy with the musical direction he had to follow with them. Now, again a year later, it is time for Zayn to show what he can do on his own with the release of debut album Mind of Mine.
When Zayn released his first solo single ‘PILLOWTALK‘ earlier this year, he did not quite met the promise of making music that was radically different than his boyband days. Although the song was produced as a contemporary R&B tune, the chorus was still very much pop (actually it is one of the most powerful hooks I have heard all year), which at the same time brought him success with a number 1 hit in both the UK and US. His dismissal of One Direction’s boyband pop actually makes a lot more sense after hearing the darker and emotional second single ‘It’s You‘. The full Mind of Mine album follows suit. The tunes are not nearly as poppy as the 1D fans are probably hoping for and focus mainly on not necessarily radio friendly, contemporary R&B beats.
Although his brave choices regarding the sound of his solo material deserve respect, I can’t help but feeling that the actual execution could have done with some more fire and tension. The productions, mostly done by Malay, are all exquisite to say the least. The overall sound is contemporary and fresh and can both be subtle, understated and taking the spotlight at the right moments. However when it comes to the compositions, they often miss that little spark to live up to the build up. Take for example ‘Drunk’, a dark slow burning R&B tune. The verses are incredibly suspenseful, but the repetition of ‘drunk all summer’ is just not a satisfying follow up hook. Similar ‘problems’ occur on a track like ‘Borderz’ and seems to come back in the album as a whole body of work. This is not just a case of a lack of radio friendly pop choruses, but more of a situation where the actual compositions don’t live up to the production and build up. Style over substance, if you will.
This is not to say however, that Mind of Mine is a disappointing debut, as it never really is boring or predictable. Take for example the interlude ‘Intermission: Flower’, where Malik uses his voice to belt out a little folk tune in Urdu, the native language of his father. On ‘Lucozade’ he seems to freestyle with no recurring chorus over a pulsing beat which turns out to be quite hypnotic. Of course we also get some tunes that actually could work well as a next single, where D’Angelo, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean (who also worked a lot with producer Malay) inspiration is easily hearable. The funky ‘Befour’ is one of the most catchy moments of the record and the sexually quite explicit ‘Take It Off’ carries a memorable hook with it as well. ‘She’ is a sweet love song about a girl who wants to be adored ‘in the right way’ and this time the repetion of words and melodies actually works for a chorus. His best shot at another hit might be ‘Rear View’. The chorus in which Zayn confesses he might not be able to be the friend the girl in the lyrics needs, is compelling and this kind of track is tailor made for his smooth and sensual, understated vocal style.
Although Mind of Mine is an exceptionally well produced, brave debut with a handful of impressive songs, at the same time it quite often misses that little hook or climax, that little spark that starts the fire, to make it just that little more memorable and overwhelming. Having said that, I have faith that Zayn will be able to grow as a solo artist in the coming years and it will be interesting to hear which paths he will choose.
Must listen: Befour, Rear View, Lucozade, Take It Off, She (if you still haven’t heard ‘Pillowtalk’ by now, you have been missing out for quite a while.)