“Jab tak iss mohabbat ka phool na khiley/ Tab tak iss dil ko sukoon na miley.”
About halfway through his debut solo album, Mind of Mine, comes this rather unexpected and immeasurably striking moment from Zayn Malik (or just ZAYN these days) on INTERMISSION: Flower. The erstwhile One Direction star turns ghazal singer for a brief interlude, recalling his heritage (and shouting out all us British Muslims growing up in a BD postcode being forced to listen to Sunrise Radio) with remarkable Urdu diction for a line that translates very simply as “For as long as this love’s flower does not blossom/ So too till then will my heart never find peace.”
In essence, that pretty much sums up a rather admirable first record – the lines are at times trite, the tropes reductive, but it’s layered amid so many impressive flourishes of form and revelations of character that it’s hard to disagree with the star quality on display here. We’re not talking Timberlake standard by any means, but Malik has a charm that surpasses his admittedly thin vocals, making the whole very much more the sum of its magpied parts.
It’s A+ for effort as well, as Malik sings the fuck out of everything with impassioned verve. Whether it’s the Bieber-esque title intro or the strained chorus of PILLOWTALK, he seems to be on a mission to prove that he can sing – admittedly most of the best pop stars aren’t necessarily the best vocalists, but then that could be the post-boyband hangover as Malik is determined to distance himself from all the bubblegum stereotypes that’s likely to come with.
As far as bedroom R&B-pop goes, it’s a winner throughout. Malik is happy taking his time over his songs rather than going for the instant-win, which develops best on tracks like BeFoUr (yes, we’re going to respect the artistry of mixed case titles). This is where Malik shines: there’s restraint but it’s still heartfelt, as the vocal acrobatics are given a rest to proffer a simple marriage of pop melody and popping production.
Beyond that, there’s much joy to be found in tracks like sHe and rEaR vIeW (please God forgive us for our sins against typing). There is of course the obligatory guff: dRuNk feels surprisingly lifeless for such a passionate record and both Malik and Kehlani deserve way better than wRoNg, but it’s a track like fOoL fOr YoU that really hammers home how far Malik has come. It feels like a redundant 1D off-cut in a sea of character, almost the inverse of what Malik was in the band himself. Malik’s definitely done the right thing to paint this Mind of Mine on his own canvas and, like that unique interlude we mentioned earlier, the key to his success will probably be to own everything that made him such an ill fit in that cabal in the first place.