Zayn Malik’s debut album has been highly anticipated since his departure from One Direction just over a year ago. In a boyband, his role was clear: brooding, mysterious, soulful. As a solo artist, he seems less sure of his footing.
In an interview with The Fader magazine last year, he said that he felt constricted by the style of music One Direction were creating, and expressed an urge to move away from ‘generic pop’.
“If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as fuck, so they could use that version… I wasn’t 100 percent behind the music. It wasn’t me,” he said.
It’s only fitting then, that fans and critics alike were expecting to hear a pure R&B album; totally removed from the boppy hooks, danceable beats, and repetitive choruses that characterise modern pop.
However, tracks such as ‘rEaR vIeW’ and ‘fOol fOr YoU’ sound like they could have been picked up from One Direction’s cutting room floor. Although creating music that sounds like your former bandmates’ cast offs is not necessarily a bad thing, it just seems at odds with what he set out to achieve.
When Malik focuses on R&B, it is hazy and soulful; his partnership with Frank Ocean producer Malay is apparent. The track ‘tRuTh’ is particularly Oceanesque, while ‘TiO’ could be mistaken for something by The Weeknd.
While his influences are apparent and he does a good job of creating music in the same vein, it comes off as as more of an ode to these artists, rather than Malik carving out his own space in the genre.
There are moments of something genuinely special, though. The intermission track ‘fLoWeR’, sung in his father’s native language of Urdu over handpicked guitar, is unlike anything that’s ever been heard in contemporary Western music.
For someone who has been criticised for not being more politically vocal as a Muslim in the spotlight, this song seems like Malik’s way of asserting his identity; a brief, simple but strong retort to the critics.
Another song that stands out is ‘LIKE I WOULD’: an upbeat, buzzy track that is the closest thing to a floorfiller and should be a definite contender for a single. Interestingly, it is only available on the Deluxe edition of the album, which makes this seem unlikely.
Unsurprisingly, Mind Of Mine has been compared with what’s often considered to be the gold standard of boyband breakout albums: Justin Timberlake’s ‘Justified’ from 2002. Although the two share similarities in tone and genre, Malik’s offering isn’t as strong as Timberlake’s, which still feels relatively fresh today – something it’s hard to imagine Mind of Mine will achieve more than a decade down the line.
It actually draws more parallels with a Justin Bieber album – not his most recent game-changer ‘Purpose’, but the largely unnoticed ‘Journals’ that he released in 2014 – an easy listening pop-R&B record that is generally very good, but also rather unexciting.
It can’t be denied that Malik is talented. The record is peppered with strong falsettos, emotional crescendos, and Malik’s signature smokey tones. The only problem is that instead of creating a body of work that has a thread of signature sound running throughout, Mind of Mine simply boasts a tracklist where a lot of the songs just kind of sound the same.
There was potential for Malik to push himself just a little further and deliver more moments that are genuinely fresh and different, but unfortunately he played it a little too safe. As a result, the album delivers less of a punch than expected; establishing itself as perfect mood music to chill to, as opposed to a critically excellent breakout. You get the feeling, however, that Zayn doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks – he made this album for himself.