From his initiation into the X-Factor universe of manufactured pop, it was clear that there was an uneasiness in the way Zayn occupied his role in the line-up. That ambivalence mounted into a much-publicised break-up with One Direction and since then, Zayn has made no feigned attempt to criticise his history with the band. Some of his frustrations were vindicated, Zayn’s natural affinity for more urban sounds at odds with the group’s rock-lite conveyer belt output.
These schisms between boy and band become abundantly clear when you hear the fruits of his labour on ‘Mind Of Mine’. Zayn carves out a soundboard with notes from the likes of Miguel and The Weeknd, emulating their predisposition towards debauchery and sex. ‘BeFoUr’ plays out through tropes of breathless coos and lush atmospherics that characterise the modern tenet of progressive R&B. This is a blueprint of the sound that Zayn navigates, and he does so with relative aplomb. Much of the record’s backbone is credited to frequent Frank Ocean collaborator Malay, producer of the aforementioned ‘BeFoUr’ and ‘BoRdErSz’ - a slick mid-tempo that could have been a politically-engaged song as the title suggests, but instead explores the breaking down of sexual blockades between lovers. Whilst tracks like these feel like a re-tread of amorphous R&B, the production is crisp and patented, providing Zayn with the foundations to showcase his pliable vocal, comprised of a capable falsetto and runs that have a distinct South-Asian influence.
On ‘INTERMISSION: fLoWer’ Zayn embodies the Qawwali-inspired singers of Pakistan, singing in Urdu with a beautiful melismatic melody, amidst a Nirvana of Woodstock-inflected guitars. In a vulnerable mood, Zayn mourns the loss of love, with “no flowers in bloom within his heart”. It’s a corny but brilliantly-realised vision, a spectral side of ‘Zayn’ he wants to propagate to his legion of listeners, and it’s a real shame that these moments are relegated to a two-minute interlude.
Other moments of range and reach appear on tracks like the Beatles-infused ‘fOoL fOr YoU’, an introspective ballad that leaves Zayn’s vocal and lyrical openness unguarded, possibly an ode to his doomed relationship with Perrie Edwards. It’s a refreshing shift from an album marred by the playboy, pleasure-obsessed persona Zayn feels more comfortable conveying. Bonus track ‘LIKE I WOULD’, a funk-driven jaunt of primitive desire succeeds in revealing a blither, light-hearted side of the singer. It’s a track that could have easily replaced the repetitious entries on the standard edition, namely the cringe-inducing ‘wRoNg’, a collaboration with SoundCloud chanteuse Kehlani that should have been much, much more.
As debut offerings often go, there’s a fervent desire on ‘Mind of Mine’ to stretch so far and wide that the cohesiveness of the record is lumbered as a result. The tracklist could have been refined to ten good tracks (most of which are on the bonus edition), and it would have served as a more definitive insight into Zayn’s plurality. Still, through ‘Mind Of Mine’, Zayn will be looked at as an artist with a serious artistic compass, showcasing his flair as a vocalist, and an ear for texture and space.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
- - -
- - -