Zayn Malik has already stated he never truly felt “comfortable” with the music One Direction recorded, even going so far as to say he was forced to re-record vocals if a take sounded too “R&B.” Simple fact is, those words paint a picture of someone wanting to stretch out a bit. On “Mind Of Mine,” Zayn steps out of the shadow of One Direction for the most part, delivering a decidedly pop-infused R&B album.
Sequenced as it is, the album gets the “I’m a man now” statement out of the way right out of the gate after a brief intro. “Pillowtalk” is classic steamy-lothario R&B filtered through Zayn’s vocal stylings and James Ryan Ho’s production style. As the style goes, it’s been done before, but it gives a refreshing burst of energy to set the tone for the rest of the album. Gone are the restrained vocal takes of the group he once called himself a part of, and in their place are impassioned, over the top vocals. Not quite into Adam Lambert-level glamazon over the top, but getting close to it. And immediately following that, the steamy-lothario mantle drops away and the crooning heart-throb comes out. “It’s You” is yet another baldly transparent bid by Zayn to show he can do something other than the buffed-to-an-inch-of-their-life pop vocals most know him for. Transparent, yes, but the hitch here is, he pulls it off, so obvious though it may be, it works, and provides a fine counterpoint to the steamy vibe of the first track.
The best, and at times worst, thing about this album, is that Zayn is too busy trying to be a chameleon. Is he the steamed up mid-20-something sexpot of “Wrong”? Is he the trying-to-be-Sinatra-with-a-falsetto crooner of “Fool For You”? The mood jumps and shifts enough to make the album feel unfocused. Not to say these moments aren’t well executed for the most part, with a few expected stumbles which one would expect from a debut album (“Lucozade” is one of them, as the track never really picks up steam, just kind of shows up and fizzles out.) Also, one of the more solid moments, the propulsive earworm “Like I Would” is a deluxe-edition only track - a decision that is a bit of a head scratcher.
Overall, Zayn has done an admirable job of stepping out of the shadows of his previous group. Reports have indicated he is already hard at work on a follow up. “Mind of Mine” shows promise - it is simply trying too hard to be too many different flavors of pop glossed R&B for every kind of listener. To some extent, it reflects the man behind the music - Zayn left One Direction [according to reports] to be able to live a “normal” life. The scattered moods found here suggest that he got tired of normal rather quickly. Looking ahead, even though this approach is a worthwhile effort to avoid being stagnant, (see the 1-note 1-subject slogs of boring cheesed up sexuality that are most of R. Kelly’s work over the last decade for an example of stagnant) going all over the map to avoid that curse can be a curse all its own. Sharpening the focus for album number 2 could reveal a truly exceptional slice of this particular flavor of music - time will tell if Zayn and all involved manage to pull it off or not.