Zayn Malik’s ‘Mind Of Mine’: Album Review

Let’s face it: The most shocking thing about Zayn Malik leaving One Direction a year ago was that he was the first to do it. Even that summer, Lance Bass of *NSYNC claimed on The Meredith Vieira Show that Harry Styles “has been ready to go solo for many months” as if to assure everyone else that they thought right, if only by some technicality. Plus, not even an ex-boy band member needs to remind anyone that, with its fleeting youth, a teen idol group tends to have a short shelf life.

But Zayn’s solo debut, out today (March 25), doesn’t quite live up to the hype of his dramatic exit, or even the buzz singles prior to its release. For all his talk of how he couldn’t just be himself while in 1D (he wasn’t allowed to grow a beard!), the tepid Mind Of Mine reveals that Zayn still has soul-searching to do.

One of Zayn’s biggest complaints about his time in the group was that he couldn’t sing R&B-leaning vocals, after he auditioned for The X Factor singing Mario‘s 2004 hit “Let Me Love You.” But the midtempo Mind Of Mine‘s own take on the genre, one that is already overused by pop stars to signal that they’re growing up, is clinical. With its organ-like keyboards and pained vocals, “It’s You” sounds like Zayn asked channel ORANGE producer Malay for his own version of Frank Ocean‘s “Bad Religion,” though it suffers because his writing and singing aren’t nearly as gripping. “I can taste it in your mouth, and I can’t leave it / You’re a freak like me, can’t you see?” he sings in the haunted “Tio,” though by “like me” he surely actually means The Weeknd in Beauty Behind The Madness. Like his 2012 tweet about how Frank is an “absolute genius,”  all Zayn shows in Mind Of Mine that he has decent taste in music.

The single biggest influence is Noah “40” Shebib‘s minimal, inward-looking production from 2013’s Nothing Was The Same onward. Drake, who once boasted of “doing One Direction numbers,” will probably be flattered. Unfortunately, such an approach also draws attention to how tame Zayn actually is, no matter how often he poses shirtless now.

As a boy band member, Zayn sang dutifully as one of five constructed perfect boyfriends. “Your hand fits in mine like it’s made just for me / but bear this in mind, it was meant to be,” goes his intro in “Little Things.” On this album, he plays the role of a player, though with a near lack of sexual tension, not as convincingly. Compared to when a pained Louis Tomlinson sang in 2013 about leaving “traces in your hair,” Zayn’s invitations — “Let’s get naked and explore our inner secrets” — give off the distinct impression that he is all talk. Many of Zayn’s lyrics are vague as if they are attempts to sound poetic, though more often than not they are confusing. When I G-chatted a friend the “Pillowtalk” lyric “Hold me hard and mellow,” she asked if Zayn was talking about weed (“sounds like you take a hit, fall to the couch, then stay there”).

To see Zayn leave One Direction was exciting because for whatever reason, he was still being pegged as “mysterious” — whether by critics in all seriousness, or jokingly in the group’s own music videos — by the time he had a five o’clock shadow. The shtick, as self-aware as it can be, is feeling too familiar. Aside from perhaps those much-beloved falsetto notesMind Of Mine does just enough to distance Zayn from his boy band past. But it probably won’t be until his next album, or even his third, that his new look feels like a second skin.

Idolator Rating: 3/5