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Zayn - Mind of Mine (Album Review)

Thursday, 31 March 2016 Written by Huw Baines

The boyband star gone solo is an old story. It’s about expanding and/or redefining an image, keeping interest levels high and proving that your tastes and musical awareness extend beyond the restrictive world of made-to-order chart pop.

After leaving Take That, Robbie Williams bought a parka and sought to pair some big ol’ ballads with the dying embers of laddish Britpop. Post-Nsync, Justin Timberlake turned to The Neptunes and Timbaland to give his libidinous R&B the requisite snap. Zayn Malik, free from the buzzing beehive surrounding One Direction, has made a similar move.

‘Mind of Mine’, his bow as a solo artist, is a work of low-lit R&B-pop that seeks to inhabit the same rooms as genre heavyweights and certified ‘real artists’ Frank Ocean (it shares a producer, Malay, with ‘Channel Orange’), Miguel and The Weeknd.

It’s a hazy affair, one suited to late nights and the early hours, and positions Zayn not only as the first One Direction member out of the gate, but also as the one most likely to disappear further and further from the staple sound that made their name. This isn’t a great record, but it is often a convincing one.

Pillowtalk, his first single, ably demonstrates its aims. Draping reflexive hooks over sub bass, punchy chorus synths and a definitely not accidental ‘fuck’, it speaks of relationship dynamics, sex and regret, all of which are recurring themes. Vocally, Zayn easily switches between its reflective opening and box office ending, turning in one of his best performances at the top of the album. From that point on, the results are more mixed.

There is a fine line between pensive and morose, and it’s not one that Zayn always stays on the right side of. Where BeFour is rescued by its luxurious chorus just before it lands face first on the deck, Bordersz and It’s You remain awkward and, if not half-finished, then certainly not fully realised statements that could last into the future as blueprints. In that camp you have the wounded confidence of Drunk, the strutting synth-pop of She and Flower, an Urdu segment that runs to a little over a minute and stands as one of the record’s most personal moments.

It is tempting, given the years that Malik has spent at the forefront of popular music, to view him as an old hand. He might be, given a spotlight and a crowd to entertain, but as a songwriter and studio artist he’s still figuring out exactly what works for him and how particular stylistic decisions affect his strengths. ‘Mind of Mine’, really, is just the start.


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