Following in the footsteps of Robbie Williams, Melanie C and Charlie Simpson, Bradford’s finest Zayn Malik has gone out of his way to distance himself from the pop phenomenon that actually enabled him to launch a solo career.
Barely a week goes by without the 23-year-old bleating on about the hardships of life in One Direction, whether it’s his embarrassment at their music, his souring relationships with the other members, or perhaps most devastatingly, the restrictions on his facial hair.
Only time will tell whether like his similarly ungrateful predecessors, Malik will eventually go crawling back, but his much-anticipated debut album, Mind of Mine, suggests that he may not need to for a while yet.
Indeed, Malik’s recent words may have heaped more undue pressure on himself to deliver the goods, but this co-penned 14-track affair proves that he can at least put his money where his big mouth is.
As the brooding alt-R&B of chart-topping first single, Pillowtalk, indicated, the likes of The Weeknd, Drake and Frank Ocean have obviously been a major influence on the record, and the inspired choice of Malay – the producer of the latter’s seminal Channel Orange – also lends it the kind of authenticity that Malik appears to badly crave.
Packed with echo-drenched beats, winding guitar solos and sparse synths, Mind of Mine certainly isn’t short on hazy slow jams, with the brief opening title track, beautifully haunting It’s You and Wrong – a duet with rising star Kehlani – all giving Malik the chance to play the brooding leading man.
But the album is at its most intriguing when it steps away from the bedroom. The hater-shading anthem BeFour and bubbling electro-funk of Lucozade are both so infectiously toe-tapping they may even inspire reluctant dancer Malik to bust out a few moves.
While the folksy Urdu-sung interlude Flower, the surprisingly theatrical piano ballad Fool for You and the classic West Coast rock sound of Truth all show that Malik’s solo career might not be as one-note as you might expect. The man himself, has also never sounded better or more confident, easily switching from seductive whispers to powerhouse high notes in the space of one breath.
If anything, Mind of Mine proves that Malik can now stop trying so hard (the terrible face tattoo, the equally terrible caps lock titles, the relentless 1D putdowns) and simply let the music speak for itself.
Rating: 8/10Words: JON O’BRIENMore stories:Zayn Malik goes shirtless for ComplexZayn Malik freaks the Internet out with new face tattoo