Zayn Malik was, by every account, the tortured introvert in One Direction. He seemed chronically shy in his X Factor audition and, as the Simon Cowell-spawned group took over the world, is said to have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the demands of stardom. He also disliked One Direction’s pop, recently telling Fader magazine that “As much as I was in that band, and I loved everything that we did, that’s not music that I would listen to.”
Released exactly a year since his departure from 1D, Malik’s solo debut is a surprisingly persuasive articulation of the unease that led him to walk away from one of the most lucrative gigs in pop. The record is self-consciously in the tradition of Justin Timberlake’s Justified and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall — the go-to examples of teen heartthrob types repositioned as credible, grown-up performers.
Malik has brought in a left-leaning back-room team, including producer James ‘Malay’ Ho (who oversaw Frank Ocean’s Agent Orange) and has stepped beyond the icky piousness that was a defining feature of the One Direction songbook. In other words, he’s singing about sex — or, at any rate, sex as it exists in Prince songs.”Climb on board/We’ll go slow and high tempo,” he croons on the single, ‘Pillow Talk’, while on ‘Drunk’ he places himself in the position of a three-sheets-to-the wind VIP trying to sweet talk a lady friend into bed.
Mind Of Mine doesn’t really hang together as an album. There’s lots of filler — meandering r’n’ b workouts that feel like sketches rather than fully considered pieces of music. But sometimes it’s the thought that counts and Malik has assembled an honest, and self-effacing, record that can be read as a plea to be taken seriously as an artist. Granted, it is strange to think of a millionaire pop star as an underdog, yet Malik is clearly determined to transcend the destiny Simon Cowell had etched out for him. Here, he has crafted a “sad dance-floor” concept LP that, despite the occasional lulls in quality, transmits an impressively impactful worldview.