Review: Zayn Malik – Mind of Mine

Harry Smith found more to like in the former One Directioner's debut than he bargained for

Mind of Mine is Zayn Malik’s first solo effort since his departure from One Direction early last year, so it is hardly surprising that the album makes explicit efforts to distance itself from that X-Factor brand of watered-down pop. The album approaches graphic sex, dark emotions, and the low points of nights out, which is a welcome change for Zayn; one of the greatest positives of this album is that it feels more sincere than One Direction ever did. But on MoM, Zayn still suffers from overproduction, which jars with what should be raw subject matter and lends an irritating self-consciousness to his supposed image shift.

Musically, the album has more interest than the two made-for-radio singles would suggest. The move from pop into R&B feels natural for Zayn’s vocal style, and while Zayn’s voice does little to distinguish him within the genre, it does work well within said genre’s limitations. The backing tracks draw from a wide range of influences, with unsurprising tinges of Frank Ocean and Robin Schulz, as well as synths that wouldn’t be out of place on a Passion Pit track, or in the softer sections of a XXYYXX album. This diverse musical source material comes together most successfully on ‘tRuTh’, which is also a rare lyrical high point. Its references to his past, trapped in a world that was “not [his] scene”, have the ring of honesty that makes good R&B, and the tinkling synth ornaments and relaxed bassline work well against the track’s softer vocals and chorus-soaked guitar.

Mind of Mine has moments of interest, and some genuinely enjoyable songs, but the extent of its weaknesses, and their prominence in the bulk of the album, only serves to overbear the stronger, more sincere tracks. It is, however, an album that could have been heavily trimmed, which might have made the issue of Zayn’s repetitive lyrical content less obvious, and helped the back end of this 59-minute album feel like less of a slog. Many of the tracks suffer from the common pop disease of having one or two clever lines padded out with rhyming clichés to make a song. ‘lUcOzAdE’, ‘TiO’, and ‘BRIGHT’ are queued one after the other, and ‘LIKE I WOULD’ comes shortly after, all of which are grounded in the stale, overdone, “let’s fuck” school of songwriting, making the second half of the album into an ad nauseam repetition of the self-evident theme that all-grown-up Zayn beats us over the head with in ‘dRuNK’ – “Right now I’m emotional.”