Mind of Mine - Zayn Malik

Mind of Mine - Zayn Malik

When Zayn started releasing singles post-One Direction I was worried that it was going to take him an album and a bit to get into the swing of things. I wasn’t overly impressed by ‘Pillowtalk’, although it is a catchy tune I don’t think it is all that cohesive, and ‘iT’s YoU’ and ‘LIKE I WOULD’ felt a little like they were selected at random from the album as singles rather than carefully considered. But, contrary to my initial prediction, I am actually really enjoying Zayn’s debut album, Mind of Mine and it gets better with every listen.

Zayn claims that he has been waiting years to execute this album, explaining that while he was in One Direction he was given the paint and the paint brushes but was never allowed to paint on the canvas. When I saw the visually chaotic music video for ‘Pillowtalk’ I thought that maybe Zayn had been allowed a little too much access to the canvas, but Mind of Mine is remarkably sparse and restrained. The album was largely written and produced in collaboration with Grammy award winner, James Ho, who has also worked with Frank Ocean, and at its best it alternates between ice-cold and glistening, and dry and demure.

Zayn is at his peak on tracks like ‘rEaR vIeW’ and ‘tRuTh’, giving heartwrenchingly understated vocal performances, and really leaning into the dark swell of the instrumentation. And, of course, a breathtaking high on the record is ‘INTERMISSION: fLoWer’, where Zayn sings in Urdu. It’s a gentle, thoughtful moment, touched by real feeling. Supposedly Zayn recorded the track in only one take, and those who have recorded music will know that is no mean feat, particularly if what you’re recording has to be good enough to distribute to millions of people around the world. 

This album does have moments that aren’t as strong as others, as is to be expected on someone’s first solo record. The songs that are great are great because they’re not obvious, the melodies are subtle, a little unusual, and the production is ever so slightly alienating. Zayn wanted to prove he is a real artist, and to do so he had to come at things from a little left of field. It’s for this reason that tracks like ‘sHe’ and ‘dRuNk’ don’t feel right to me. It’s not that they aren’t decent pop songs, because they are, it’s just that they are predictable. In a really great pop song you anticipate what is going to happen next as it is happening, so it feels right. In an average pop song you anticipate what is going to happen next before it happens and it’s not as compelling. There is one smashing pop song on this record, though, and it’s ‘fOoL fOr YoU’, a searing R&B number where Zayn really gets to sing his heart out backed by a full, swinging band. It’s the moment of excess that he needed to get out of his system, and it’s sweet and perfect. The album begins to wind down after this track, getting slower, softer and more mournful. We’re left with ‘SHE DON’T LOVE ME’, in which Zayn admits, “I question myself all the time”. We’re reminded that in spite of any personal triumph Zayn has experienced in branching out on his own, he’s still vulnerable, he’s still learning, and he’s still processing what it means to relocate your integrity after huge creative upheaval.

In summation, not only is Zayn a hugely important figure who is genuinely radicalising parts of pop music and culture dominated by politically mute white men, he has also produced a pretty stunning debut album. Mind of Mine might not grab you on first listen, but is full of so many shining, resonant moments that keep drawing you back in. I look forward to whatever Zayn does next because it can only get better from here.  

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2016.
Posted 12:53pm Sunday 24th April 2016 by Millicent Lovelock.