The world of pop music had a minor implosion last year when Zayn Malik departed the international boyband sensation One Direction, citing a need to be a normal twenty-something man, only to be followed weeks later by news of his upcoming record deal and album. Zayn had long since been touted as the ‘sensitive’ member of the band, the shy, introverted yin to the others’ more bouncy and boisterous yang, and it’s a persona he simultaneously seems to be both emulating and shedding on his highly-anticipated debut album Mind of Mine.
Lead single ‘Pillowtalk’ is an instant hit with sumptuous verses that highlight Zayn’s impressive vocals, and a stadium-sized chorus that not only shows off his falsetto skillset, but that also provides one of the album’s biggest pop highlights. Buzz singles such as the subtly catchy ‘Befour’ (a slight nod to his 1D days), and the poppy appeal of ‘Like I Would’ ensure that despite the shadowy lyrical content, the production remains engaging, much like the recent material of Canadian R&B crooner The Weeknd.
Things do take a darker turn further along into the record, which is at turns autobiographical and fantastical, even down to the (perhaps Lil Wayne-inspired) album cover which sees an infant Zayn beam into camera, replete with his current crop of tattoo ink. Songs such as the dark breakup tune ‘She’ (which references his contentious split from fiancee and Little Mix star Perrie Edwards), and the achingly poignant ‘Drunk’ give the songs here a ring of truth, even if some of them become repetitive towards the back end of the album in terms of beats.
Fortunately it’s not all gloomy, morally murky introspection – sonically at least. ‘Lucozade’ more than earns its name with its sparkling, effervescent production. while ‘Tio’ is an electronically twinkling sound and an infectious ‘take it off’ chorus that remains one of the big pop moments of this admittedly impressive record. There’s even chance for a markedly lovely moment with ‘Rear View’ in this flawed, introspective first record that sits somewhere between Drake, Frank Ocean, and Miguel’s most vibrant, sexual material.
The sweetest moment of the whole affair has to be the intermission, ‘Flower’: a 100-second-odd interlude which involves Zayn singing a traditional song in his father’s Urdu. Vocals aside (and his vocals have never so sweet and silken as they are here), it’s a radiant moment of reflection, one which acknowledges that despite the sex-and-swagger of this album, Zayn is still the boy from Bradford who just happened to be a global superstar.