Album Review: ZAYN – ‘Mind Of Mine’

When one breaks away from the very machine that built them, the amount of pressure bestowed upon them to deliver on their own is immeasurable.  After all, for every Justin Timberlake there’s a Nick Carter. Yet, Zayn Malik defied the odds and immediately shot to #1 with his debut solo single.

While Zayn definitely isn’t a Nick Carter or JC Chasez, he hasn’t quite reached Timberlake heights. However, thanks to his debut solo album ‘Mind Of Mind’ – and a little extra fine tuning from this point on – he’s well on his way to standing amongst the greats that have shed a boyband past for good.

One of the biggest reasons that Zayn stepped out on his own was that he was feeling creatively suffocated. He had virtually no outlet to express who he is as an artist in One Direction. So, it’s not surprise that he’s introducing a brand new sound on his record – one more rooted in R&B that doesn’t show he’s afraid to blur the lines between that genre and the one he tried to escape.

And that’s the funny part of all this. Zayn is largely unenthused with the idea of being a pop star and fame, yet he seems like a natural at it. After you experience the high of highs, it seems like a logical choice to want to retreat into something just for you. In a way, that attitude and perspective has been channeled into the music on ‘Mind of Mine’.

 

Zayn has become infamous for his near-flawless vocal technique – it’s not a surprise that his voice is a big highlight of the record. But the real surprise is how great the production is. Largely helmed by Malay, Levi Lennox, MYKL, XYZ, the entire vibe of the record proves to be one of the most consistent and exciting sounds this year. Restricted, yes. Very little variation, yes. But it’s not about crafting hits on ‘Mind Of Mine’. The woozy, sometimes chilly atmospheric vibe is all about capturing a specific attitude and tone that shows off Zayn’s strengths as a solo artist.

Truthfully, Zayn is at his strongest when he’s mixing R&B, alternative, and pop influences into one. The first half of this record is a shining example of that. Grant it, we’ve heard most the material already (lead single ‘Pillowtalk’ and promo singles ‘It’s You’ and ‘Befour’), but the sequence of these three strung together take you on such a ride – especially when they lead into the loose ‘She’ (a story about a girl loving for love and filling the void with party after party) and the 5 AM post come down ‘Drunk’ (a lush anthem that bottles the quick and thrilling feeling of being love drunk).

 

Elsewhere on the album, the alt-pop&B amalgam continues to hit all the right notes. The smooth ‘Borderz’, the sexually charged ‘TIO’ and ‘She Doesn’t Love Me’, the dance-driven second single ‘Like I Would’ and even ‘Bright’ (that pre-chorus melody by the way…) all show Zayn successfully finding his sound and killing it. When he gets experimental, he truly positions himself as an artist – an intoxicating one at that.

But with all the high moments, there is a bit that could be tightened up. ‘Rearview’ falls flat around the middle of the album after such a solid first act and ‘Lucozade’ sounds like unfinished word vomit. Other times, he loses his identity. ‘Fool For Love’ –  while great and inspired by the Beatles – sounds exactly like a One Direction track, ‘Blue’ taps into a bit of Justin Timberlake’s world’and ‘Wrong’ – while again great – swipes the exact melody from The Weeknd’s latest single ‘Acquainted’. These missteps don’t really tarnish the album of Zayn. In fact, it makes us wonder how much great his sophomore album will be.

The odds were stacked against him, but he pulled off what most try and fail to do: deliver a debut album that separates him from the past and the present while also providing a glimpse into the future. It remains to be seen if Zayn is in this for the long haul; but if he keeps making music for himself and really polishing what he just introduced to the world, we may be watching a superstar develop right before our eyes.

Download ‘Mind of Mine’ on iTunes.

 

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