On 25th March 2015, Zayn Malik announced that he was leaving One Direction to be a “normal 22 year old”. Exactly a year later, he has released his debut solo album under ZAYN; a mammoth 18 track record that is a somewhat messy expulsion of everything ZAYN has ever wanted to sing, but couldn’t. Understandably, the expectation for this album was huge. After months of interviews explaining how he was never happy while in One Direction, critics and fans alike were eager to see whether leaving it all behind was worth it. In my opinion, it definitely was.
The main themes of Mind Of Mine are sex, drugs and R&B which is understandable seeing as they seem to be the main themes of Zayn’s own life. The title of this record, along with MiNd Of MiNdd (intro) are a not so subtle reminder to the listener that this is Zayn’s true self.
The tracks on the album all fit loosely into the bracket of R&B/pop, and in some cases Zayn treads this line beautifully. For example, sHe has a strong and regular beat that supports the simple but effective chorus: “she wants somebody to love, to hold her in the right way” making it incredibly catchy, so while the tone of voice and subject matter are typically R&B, it falls just on the side of pop. This track also features a high note at 2.25 that needs an honourable mention. Following song dRuNk takes the R&B themes a little further, slowing the pace and turning up the sex factor. Along with wRoNg which features R&B songstress Kehlani, this song fully embodies the jump Zayn has made in terms of style and writing subject. After years of perfect pop pieces about fancying the girl on the dancefloor, he finally gets to say it like it is: “I’ll get her wetter than ever, four letters is never the question, she likes when I’m messy and I like when she’s undressing”. These tracks along with TiO (which stands for take it off) are sexy and atmospheric with echoing beats and soft vocals. They have just the right amount of sexual tension and general angst to keep the listener wanting more, or at least wishing they were the person Zayn is singing about.
Contrasting with these, however, are the pure pop tracks like PILLOWTALK and LIKE I WOULD. Listening to the record as a whole, it seems as if these singles were the equivalent of clickbait for the record; they captured the attention of general pop lovers, easing them into the accessible R&B that comes with the rest of the record. In doing this, they also prove that Malik - or at least his management - knew that the success of Mind Of Mind relies on the pop loving girls who have followed him for years. Admittedly they’re not quite One Direction songs in that they are more explicit than anything the band have released, but they are definitely the safest - or at least most predictable- tracks on the record.
While these songs could be considered safe, there are points on this record where you’re reminded just how much freedom Zayn has now, and he seems to revel in it. For example, INTERMISSION: floWer is a genuinely lovely moment, which is completely different from the other 17 tracks, and yet seems to fit perfectly as just another part of the self expression this record represents. Over a backing track of simple plucked guitars like one of Alt J’s interludes, Zayn sings in his father’s native tongue Urdu. According to producer Malay, this track was “inspired by his father’s culture” and was recorded live in one take. Sandwiched between the highly produced songs about sex and drugs, this song is a beautiful insight into another part of Zayn’s mind. Having struggled with racism and Islamophobia while in One Direction, this track shows a pride in Malik’s heritage that translates into a very sweet sound, which is a highlight on the album, as short as it is. I admit that on the surface some of the allure of this may be because many won’t understand it, which makes it seem more different and mysterious. Deeper than that, though, this is a successful reappropriation of the “mysterious” label Malik was often given in the past, as he embraces a different style of music and even a different language to bring us something meditative, simple and very lovely.
Littered through the driven, forceful songs there are other instances of gentle tracks which are more romantic than sexy. iT’s YoU and BLUE have more subtle instrumentation which let Zayn show us just how good his voice is. In the former especially, he seems to revel in the chance to glide through the octaves to his strong and clear falsetto, which he does extremely well. In the latter, the lyrics aren’t the most inventive, but the barely there backing track which builds slowly throughout the song is the perfect backdrop for his falsetto exclamations: “I need somebody to love. Love me blue”. While these tracks - and the album in general - are a hit, there are misses on the record. The epitome of this is fOoL fOr YoU which sounds like an X Factor winner’s first ballad or something off a Bridget Jones soundtrack. This song serves to highlight that while this album is good, it’s not perfect. As a whole, it could stand to be cut down by about five tracks, which would tighten up the weaker spots and the songs which blend into each other, or into the background like SHE DON’T LOVE ME and BoRdErSz.
This is clearly an album that is trying to prove that the artist needs to be taken seriously, and on the most part it is convincing. Mostly, it is what lies outside the music that reminds us that Zayn is not as ground-breaking as he thinks he is. The tracklist, for example, reads like my old MSN username. Perhaps stardom at the tender age of 17 meant that Zayn missed out on formative phases like writing LiKe ThIs, so he’s making up for it with titles like BoRdErSz. He also came under fire for apparently copying Lil Wayne on his album artwork, which shows a childhood portrait of him with his current tattoos photoshopped on. These factors suggest that Zayn is trying a bit too hard on this record. Sometimes this is reflected in the music, with songs like fOoL fOr YoU being overpowered by his vocal runs.
If Mind Of Mind was released two years ago, it would have been more revolutionary than it is in the wake of The Weeknd and Nick Jonas’s majorly successful R&B-pop hybrids. However, while it is not, perhaps, as original as Malik would like it to be, this record is still a strong effort. Moreover, it seems to have achieved what he wanted to: did he break out of the pattern One Direction followed religiously? Yes. Did he create an album of catchy R&B/pop tracks? On the most part, yes. Did he prove that he has a voice, both literally and symbolically? Definitely. Has it changed the world? Maybe not, although he has been smashing records. All in all, Mind Of Mine is a great effort of an album, and seems to have gotten everything off Zayn’s chest. It is, therefore, a perfect starting point for what I hope is a long and successful career. In the last year, Zayn has taken us from X Factor to Sex Factor, and I for one can’t wait to see where he takes us next.