One year. 365 days. 525,600 minutes have passed since Zayn Malik left boy band phenomenon One Direction (by the time this is published, it will be well over that measurement, but I digress). In that year, Malik’s “bad boy” persona (of the boy band tropes associated, he was the “mysterious” Directioner) has escalated tenfold – various haircuts/colors, tattoos and smoke-filled Instagram posts, Internet back-and-forth between certain ex-bandmates, a new and high-profile relationship with model Gigi Hadid, the list goes on.
The debut solo album from Malik is slinky, sensual, laced with deep, dark beats and thrumming rhythm – think Miguel meets Frank Ocean with a bit of Chris Brown falsetto thrown in. It’s a 90s R&B record made for the millennial tech culture. The verdict? This listener digs it – I’ll admit, I am not sold on the album as a whole (it *is* only my first cover-to-cover listen!), but there’s a lot of interesting material to be absorbed here. Below is a track-by-track review of this genre-hopping paradise/war zone in album form. (And yes, I’m sticking with the upper and lower case typography that is written on the album itself. I’m going for the ~artistry~ here.)
1. “MiNd Of MiNdd (Intro)”
Kicking things off with an ethereal flaunt of his characteristically smooth vocals, this less than :60 intro is something I would have liked to hear a full version of. It’s way too short for my liking – get on this, Zayn. Next album, go!
The first single from the newfound Zaynverse, this is the quintessential 90s R&B-meets-2010s tech-pop. Sultry, dirty, full of back-and-forth between him and his professed lover, it’s the departure he needed from the almost-but-not-quite sexualized material of his former gig. (Side note: Sure, all boy bands have sexualized lyrics. But you won’t hear 1D singing this sort of sexualized, no matter how it pales compared to its slinky hip-hop contemporaries.)
3. “iT’S YoU”
Slow and a bit clunky, the ballad-esque track features low vocals that give way to a rising chorus with an intriguing, falsetto-heavy melody. I’ll admit, it’s not one of my favorites on the record, but it should make for an interesting live performance – especially if the performance on The Tonight Show a few weeks back is any indication.
A bit more funky, this jam is the first on the album to make you move a bit. The rhythm evokes a subdued sort of hip-shaking, a song that you would play around a bonfire with your friends on a late Saturday night (at least, that’s the vibe I’m feeling here). The video even evokes that friendly vibe – gather your peeps and blast this one, folks.
This is definitely one of my favorites on the album. The beat is synthetic-ly sweet, fades in at the right places and highlights Zayn’s lower register with well-placed higher sections. Musical terminology (or lack thereof) aside, this is a jam – and it shows off the soulful side of his voice amidst a ready-to-drop beat.
Here we have a more balanced showcase of his voice, an evenness of baritone and tenor spread in this carefree ode to summertime intoxication. It’s more relaxed in its tone, which ultimately reflects in its musicality – an abbreviated leave from the more haunting tracks.
7. “INTERMISSION: fLoWer”
In all honesty, this is a bit out of place. Many are praising its interesting contrast (it is sung in Urdu, his father’s native language) with its plucky guitar and reverent vocals. I am all for representing heritage and changing things up, but I’m not sure where or how this gels with the rest of the record.
Peppier than the others from the start, this highlights the pop side of Zayn. Rhythm and blues vocals in check, it bounces and creates a soft yet moveable groove that is more than welcome.
9. “wRoNg” (feat. Kehlani)
The airy vocals are back in full on this track, which features the equally airy Kehlani as a partner in harmony. Truth time: This is another track that didn’t stand out at first listen. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t fit the album aesthetic – it’s just as slinky-sexy as the rest of them, but it’s not one to provide a transcendent moment that sets Zayn apart from his new contemporaries.
10. “fOoL fOr YoU”
This ballad (much more true to the term than “iT’s YoU”) showcases just how soulful Zayn’s range can be. (Try and not wave a hand in the air at those runs. Seriously.) He gives his vocals a workout on this track – this is another one I am curious to see live.
Clipped and kinda catchy, there’s a bit of a Frank Ocean vibe thrown into this one. It’s a song that runs together with the rest of them – another example of something that’s not “bad,” but not a standout.
I kept waiting for this song to go somewhere – but it never really did. Maybe it’s because I’m more of a fan of the upbeat tracks on this record, but this song just seemed to fall flat amongst the more dynamic numbers.
This synthesized track slides in right alongside the rest of the album. It’s another track that didn’t seem to go anywhere – it remains relatively calm in terms of vocals, some standard runs and high notes mixed in. Another upbeat but less-than-standout track.
The Chris Brown-style vibes are present in the vocals and the lyrics, but the lower register that (again, and wonderfully) balances out the falsetto set it apart a bit. It’s your standard “I’m turned on and I’m gonna sing about it” track, but those are (mostly) popular and catchy for a reason.
Slow and reverent, Zayn’s vocals shine through the piano on this track. It seems like his sound became stronger here, standing out (and fitting in) more among music not infiltrated as much by machinery, especially in the second half. I like the almost-ballad quality the song has to it – it’s another one I’d be curious to hear live.
While it becomes bouncy and staccato as all can get, it is yet another example of an alright-but-not-a-standout song – but it’s still fun.
17. “LIKE I WOULD”
Synth-heavy and club-ready, add this to the aforementioned Upbeat Tracks list. This is one of the standouts – especially when those echoing back vocals come in during the chorus. *This* is what I wanted to hear throughout the entire record. It’s upbeat enough for both Top 40 and EDM underground hotspots. I’ll be dancing to this one for a while, guys.
18. “SHE DON’T LOVE ME”
A quasi-ballad to end the album, this track is unique enough to garner play across multiple genre outlets – I wouldn’t be surprised if this played on both urban and Top 40 stations nationwide. It’s like listening to Miguel Lite in all the right ways – sexy, funky, and catchy as can be. It’s a nice way to end the record.
Listen to the full album on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/album/5amj9zNeZ3B2EdpBgXrOZ0
Stay tuned next week for your regularly scheduled Tuesday Tuneage.