Zayn forces maturity on debut solo album

When Zayn Malik left One Direction a little over a year ago, fans didn’t know what to expect. There was a lot of uncertainty about when people would hear from him musically again. Then, on New Year’s Eve 2015, he posted a simple tweet: “Z016.” After that, Malik announced his first solo album Mind of Mine, which he would release as ZAYN. He promised that his lyrics and musical style were headed in a much more mature direction from his previous work. With much of One Direction’s fan base considering Malik to be the strongest vocally in the band, it’s understandable that many people—including myself— had high expectations for Malik’s return to the music scene.

The style of Mind of Mine is certainly a departure from the pop sound of One Direction. Malik worked with producer Malay—who has previously worked with artists such as Frank Ocean—to create a heavily R&B-influenced album. It’s not surprising to see that Malik has already been compared to other contemporary R&B singers, including The Weeknd and Usher.

One of the first songs on the album is its first single: “PILLOWTALK.” The lyrics are certainly more mature at first glance, centering on sex and featuring profanity. These lyrics, however, come off as so focused on trying to appeal to an older audience that it reaches the point where it feels forced. Despite that, the song is catchy and works well as a single.

In some of the more upbeat songs—such as “BeFoUr”—Malik’s powerful vocals manage to get lost in the loud music backing him up. He strikes a skillful balance between his voice and the music in “sHe,” however, which I found to be one of the strongest tracks on the album. Malik’s artful lyrics create a vivid picture of who “she” is with lines like, “She puts her spirit in a nightcap/She always knows where the crowd’s at/She puts her mouth ’round the cigarette.”

This powerful imagery continues in the following track “dRuNk.” Again, Malik proves that he can make a song that knows exactly what it’s trying to do. Here, he creates an intimate atmosphere with simple, yet expressive lyrics. His vocals take precedence, especially when he hits his trademark falsetto.

One of the shortest songs on the album is also one of the most beautiful. “INTERMISSION: fLoWer” is less than two minutes long and it’s sung in Urdu—the first language of Malik’s father. Featuring a sparse guitar and Malik’s echoing voice, the song is touching and emotional—even if you don’t speak the language.

In an interview on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, Malik spoke about his song “wRoNg,” which he said was originally written to be a rap. Now a song featuring singer Kehlani, it falls flat. As the only duet on the album, “wRoNg” disappoints by not utilizing Kehlani’s voice as much as it could have. It sounds more like two tracks were awkwardly strung together rather than one cohesive song.

While Mind of Mine is an accomplished album, it still flounders in some respects. Malik’s audience was promised more mature lyrics—and Malik did deliver—yet many songs feel flat and emotionally detached. But when the lyrics are strong, they’re amazing.

Malik had a goal when he set out to create this album and while it’s definitely a step in the right direction, he still has a long way to go until he’s truly established himself as a renowned solo artist.