The first effort of Zayn Malik’s solo career I came across was a cover of Rae Sremmurd’s ‘No Type’, Mic Righteous providing the verses – what comes across is that he really does have vocal chops, but the R&B style of the hook didn’t quite suit him (you definitely couldn’t imagine One Direction hopping on it to give it a go), and you could tell he was trying to do too much with his voice, meaning some of the emotion he was trying to get across was lost. It was like he was lost being the sole focus of attention without the rest of the boys singing with him, and it didn’t really put me in a settled position when it came to thinking about what I should expect from his solo debut Mind of Mine.
Then ‘PILLOWTALK’ dropped in late January, one of two singles from the album – it genuinely shocked me how much I enjoyed the track, solid vocal melodies in the verses and its more mature content (though, generically so, the classic ‘I’m not a teenage boy-band member anymore, I’m a real man’ kind of vibe), and some very tight production with stuttering trap influenced 808s/909s laid beneath heavily modulated and distorted guitars. Comparisons with The Weeknd come to mind, not only sonically, but also lyrically in the combining of pleasure and pain of sex – he’s not quite got the same grasp as The Weeknd in delivering simple lines which still hit home though. The chorus is actually the weakest part of the song, a simple bemoaning of “it’s a paradise, it’s a warzone” making the dichotomy not quite as complicated as it should be. If you listen past his brazen happiness to be free from past-label requirements though, his voice definitely picks up the slack.
Similarities with other heavyweights of the genre spill-over into the next track ‘ITs YOU’, that sounds like it could have been taken straight off of Channel ORANGE (helped by the fact it’s produced by Ocean’s producer Malay), a low organ sitting below falsetto crooning delivered well, despite it being quite out of place straight after the club-friendly ‘PILLOWTALK’. It might be his best effort at putting out a slow jam, the distorted guitars returning to provide a neat and gentle crescendo.
‘BeFoUr’ channels Drake’s tried and tested ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ formula, the drums sounding eerily a little too similar for comfort, and even the vocal melody sometimes sounding samey at points too. Once again Malik saves the track with his (obviously) superior singing as he recounts his experiences just prior to him leaving One Direction.
If you couldn’t tell by now there’s a theme developing – the album is definitely a new sound for Zayn Malik, who in our minds we still link to One Direction, but as for the genre in general there really isn’t much new about Mind of Mine. What’s more there isn’t really that much of a unified sound despite it sounding like a lot of thought has been put into how the album should sound.
‘INTERMISSION: FLoWer’ feels very out of place, a homage to his Pakistani heritage as he sings the song entirely in Urdu. And yet, by itself, it’s definitely not a bad track – pads quietly soar in the background as an acoustic guitar is fingerpicked, and the reverb on his vocals give quite an ethereal and spectral vibe to it, also helped by the fact that he barely enunciates his words when he sings (whether in English or in Urdu), which I initially found a tad annoying but grew to deal with.
“Until the flower of this love has blossomed,
this heart won’t be at peace,
give me your heart” (translated from Urdu)
Kehlani, the only feature on the album, shines on ‘WRoNg’, seemingly another Weeknd inspired track, with one of the stronger hooks on the album, though that isn’t really high praise as in general the earworm-level hooks that you would expect from The Weeknd are definitely not present here. ‘LIKE I WOULD’ fairs a bit better in that regard, the verses and bridge in the second single, much like the first, carrying strong melody – the chorus, whilst also strong, is a very blatant borrow (that’s putting it nicely) from ‘Can’t Feel My Face’.
Malik dips into a few other artists’ bags, moving towards a Michael Bublé/Mariah Carey style on ‘FOoL FOr YoU’, a classic piano-based chordal progression forming the basis of the ballad (and it must be said that his voice could be placed in the same calibre as those two artists), and then strangely dipping into reggae on ‘DO SOMETHING GOOD’, which works somewhat (though the attempt to modernise with a stuttering siren really didn’t work), but when I read the lyrics on paper (or rather, on screen) it really didn’t impress.
I think there was lot of pressure Malik for his debut solo effort, many people comparing his trajectory to that of Justin Timberlake who burst into stardom after taking a break from NSYNC – just watching the music videos and his live performances, he seems kind of stiff, not ready to take the main stage and the world by storm. That being said, this is definitely not a flop of an album, and fans of Zayn prior to his split from One Direction will not be disappointed; he may even gain some new ones too. He just needs to take a much more relaxed approach with his next effort, and needs to search for his own sound. If he does so, it wouldn’t surprise me if he followed JT’s narrative of leaving his boyband in the dust.
This article was written by Mo Hafeez