In a way, Mind of Mine is a difficult record to review because of how bizarrely wide its reaching audience is. Coming off his exit from neo-boy band One Direction, many might expect Zayn Malik’s debut LP to be a pop-heavy, substance-free collection of singles. However, Mind of Mine’s attempt at rebranding Malik as “ZAYN” relies instead on referencing the kind of alternative RnB made recognizable by artists like The Weeknd and Miguel, granting Zayn attention from music bloggers and indie-cred publications for his revamped, more “mature” approach. So, while it is far from being highly original or complex, Mind of Mine’s flirtation with PBR&B style and cloud-rap beats comes off authentic enough, and accumulates into some solid tracks.
Although it sometimes outshines Zayn’s vocals, what is supposed to be the focus of Mind of Mine, the production on this record is superb, and more often than not conveys a personified confidence, which Malik takes advantage of. Lead single “Pillowtalk” showcases Zayn’s post-Direction evolution in full, with its sleek chorus reminiscent of early Justin Timberlake, and its lyrics shedding the inherent innocence of his previous group. Other standouts “She” and “Rear-View” layer booming synths and glossy drum samples under Zayn’s crooning to craft enjoyable Weeknd impressions, albeit with simpler vocal melodies. Despite the lyrics being sophomoric at best (“she wants someone to love/in the right way”), Zayn sings them with such sharpness, his yearning is guaranteed to get stuck in more than a few heads.
Many of the highlights on Mind of Mine possess a similar delivery and are found mostly in the records first half, with the Malay-produced “BeFour” and “It’s You” hinting at some actual range for Zayn. “It’s You” is Zayn’s most delicate, traditionally R&B song, it’s subdued chorus channeling Malay’s other mainstay Frank Ocean, and builds into “BeFour”, his most powerful. A drunk in-love song with airy drums and soaring melodies, “BeFour” finds Zayn idling somewhere between the commercial accessibility of Bieber and the swagger of Drake, making for an undeniably attractive tune. Yet, despite these infectious cuts, most of Zayn’s Mind is strangely inconsistent, and many of the songs merely fill space between its peaks.
Its namesake aside, Mind of Mine could use a tad more ownership to reaffirm the kind of statement it strives to make, for its weakest moments occur when Zayn diverges from his R&B orientation and tries to be something he is not. Tracks like “Mind of Mindd Intro” or “Intermission: Flower” are half-baked attempts at electronic “interludes” ala The 1975, and somehow are even more annoying than the UK band’s insistence on them. Soaked in unflattering reverb and backed by an acoustic guitar, “Flower” is an interesting idea, Zayn meandering into ethereal indie, but given the already set mood on Mind, feels wildly out of place. Other missteps are less offensively boring, as the non-Malay production fails to keep up with his triumphant, soulful vibe. Later tracks “Truth”, “Lucozade”, and “Fool for You” are directionless recreations of general R&B and pop-lite, the kind of predictable songwriting one might anticipate from radio-friendly music. Even the sole feature from Kehlani doesn’t boost “Wrong” in the ways that it should, its cliché chorus standing out far too much by any standard. In fact, the strong start on Mind of Mine becomes almost tarnished by its flat, stale second half, leaving otherwise good songs like “Borders” to stick out like sore thumbs.
Everything about Mind of Mine‘s b-side reeks of saturated co-writers, composing songs which could be re-written for any other artist in Zayn’s league. And while the same could be said of this entire album, something still remains compelling about Zayn’s effort towards crossover appeal. It would have been much easier of a career move for him to remain in his sugar-coated radio sphere, and mixed results aside, his creative team’s push for a more relevant, experimental album is admirable. So, for those who do not dismiss Mind of Mine altogether, keep Zayn’s context in the back of your own when listening, and who knows, you might actually have some fun.
– Andre I.