Leaving the world’s biggest boy band phenomenon was always going to be a gamble for Zayn Malik. The decision only had two possible outcomes: Zayn would rise out of One Direction’s ashes like a proverbial Justin Timberlake to reign over the pop charts, or fade into oblivion like the remainder of N*SYNC.
Exactly a year from the date he left One Direction (God, that still hurts), the release of Zayn’s (he’s dropped the Malik) debut solo album Mind of Mine will settle the score once and for all. One of the most anticipated albums of the year, MoM sees the Bradford bad boy do a complete 180. After four years of conforming to the 1D formula, Zayn has broken away to channel the hip-hop roots he’s always longed for. As a result, the final 18 tracks are more eclectic than the transformation of Zayn’s hair over the last 12 months.
Opening with the minute-long intro MiNd Of MiNdd, Zayn’s unmistakable vocals soar over a synth layered piano melody before easing into absolute banger PILLOWTALK. An alleged ode to his supermodel girlfriend Giggi Hadid, the debut single is a downtempo R&B earworm driven by Malik’s buttery-smooth vocals. The track rocketed to number one on the Billboard charts and has racked up more than 176 million listens on Spotify to date, so it’s a good sign of what’s to come.
Next up, iT’s YoU is a heavenly ballad that adds to the already ambient vibe of MoM. Drowning in delicate synth and sweeping strings, the track leans largely on Zayn’s vocal ability and that hair-raising falsetto. “Could it be that it’s a lesson that I never had to learn? I looked at it like a blessing and now it’s just a curse,” he croons.
Zayn summons some sass and turns up the funk on BeFour. Presumably a reference to his time with 1D and the remaining foursome, the lyrics recount the dramas he’s had with his boyband brothers since departing. “Time for me to move up. So many hours have gone,” he quips on the second verse.
sHe has the undeniably catchy hooks of your regular pop jam, though the heavy presence of electro gives it just the right amount of edge. Meanwhile, dRuNk slinks in with a simple piano melody and a story of an intoxicating romance: “Late nights, red eyes, amnesia, I need ya,” he sings on the first verse. The “drunk in love” metaphor has been done to death, but the track still makes for an easy listen.
The album is divided by the ghostly intermission fLoWeR, in which we hear Zayn singing in Urdu for the first time. It opens with the plucking of an acoustic guitar before swelling up with synth, making for a hauntingly beautiful and authentic interval.
In the second chapter, rEaR vIeW floats by on heavenly harmonies and early 00’s-sounding hip-hop rhythms, while wRoNg features a refreshing collab from R&B songstress and fellow singing competition alumni, Kehlani. The bluesy fOoL fOr YoU is a standout on MoM. Stripped back to a simple piano melody and drum beat, the track relies on Zayn’s natural talent as he belts out a towering chorus that is bound to be a killer when performed live.
While BoRdErSz and tRuTh both channel smooth R&B, luCoZadE brings the bone-rattling beats and f-bombs that make for a more mellow club track. Coupled with sultry beats, lyrics like “You’re a freak like me” and “Let’s get naked and explore” on TiO (or “Take It Off”) are bound to send Zayn’s oestrogen-fuelled fanbase into a frenzy. The mood is reigned in again with BLUE and the desperate plea of “I need somebody to love” communicated through a fierce falsetto. This mood carries on in BRIGHT as Zayn explores a contrast of morbid pop: “I found my life in between shots and getting high,” he sings over dance beats.
16 songs in and the album barely contains a comparison to 1D until we hit Like I Would. When the track dropped in the lead up to the album release, fans were quick to point out similarities between the song and One Direction’s I Would from 2012’s Take Me Home. While the poppy chorus structure holds some resemblance, the overall electro R&B vibe of Zayn’s track sets it apart from its predecessor. SHE DON’T LOVE ME doesn’t seem like the most obvious finale, but it embodies all of the core foundations of MoM: an addictive beat, streams of synth and a killer set of pipes.
While the one year anniversary of Zayn’s departure may have been a time of sadness, the release of Mind of Mine could mean it’s time for fans to put away those memorial candles and embrace the era of Z016.
Verdict: Justin Timberlake status achieved.
Watch: ZAYN – PILLOWTALK