Zayn: Mind Of Mine | Virgin Media
Zayn: Mind Of Mine

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It's a hard fact of life that the career trajectories of boyband escapees tend to arc far more frequently towards the gutter than the stars.

For every Robbie Williams or Ronan Keating, there are 10 Mark Owens or Mikey Grahams. For every Justin Timberlake, there are a hundred JC Chasezes.

Who? Well, exactly.

By parachuting out of One Direction prior to their final, pre-'hiatus' album, Zayn Malik won the opportunity to be the first 1Der out of the trap with his solo debut. So has he used this window wisely, and is it worth waiting for?

Arriving a year to the day since Malik quit 1D, Mind Of Mine is desperate to prove his maturity: to show that he is about more than scream-fodder teen-pop. The sound is largely shaped by Frank Ocean producer James 'Malay' Ho, and it shows: all staccato beats and pristine production, it is utterly contemporary.

The hazy shimmer of lead-off single PiLlOwT4lK (Mind Of Mine is an album that finds conventional use of upper and lower cases bourgeois) sets out his stall: it's a narcotic, sexual reverie that finds a moody Malik dirty talking like The Weeknd.

After all, as Miley Cyrus well knows, what's the best way to leave a kiddie-pop past behind? Use sex, and lots of it.

Throughout, Malik sidles behind sultry beats, alternating muted murmur and fierce falsetto. The charged iT's YoU is exactly the sort of cut that a 14-year-old recovering Directioner may regard as the last word in aural sophistication, which is probably the point. dRuNk has the faux-penitent, pass-agg swagger that has become Drake's calling card: "Red eyes, amnesia, I need ya."

Zayn: Mind Of Mine

It's a potent, immersive album that drags you into its emotional maw even when the hooks and tunes are relatively slight. rEaR vIeW's post-The xx blanched R&B hits hard through intensity and repetition; fOoL fOr YoU could be a phones-aloft 1D ballad veiled in digital seduction.

The distant, aloof production can't mask everything: tracks such as tRuTh and, particularly, lUcOzAdE are so insubstantial that you can't grasp them and they simply vanish into the ether. Yet the album ends in insistent mode, with Malik's lover-man shtick on TiO close to slipping into sex-pest terrain: "Take it off, take it off, just take it off!"

How much does Malik's new persona ring true? Ultimately, it is hard to tell; he is buried so deep beneath the best songwriters and cutting-edge production that a lot of money can buy. Closed and private, Zayn Malik always was the sullen enigma of 1D. On this valiant debut, that status is maintained.

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