My first impression upon listening “PILLOWTALK” in January 2016, the first single from Zayn after leaving from One Direction, was he would definitely NOT need to stay in One Direction for his further success if he could create such a good quality song. The song made it very clear Zayn left One Direction because he was going to totally another direction musically. Yes, that much difference. No bubblegum pop like One Direction anymore. Thickly concentrated, the beautifully dark, dramatic, and strong melody occupied the song. “PILLOWTALK” gave me the impression that a colorful flower was blossoming in the black and white darkness, just like its promotion video. Plus his vocal was better than before. I naturally wanted to give two thumbs up to the song.
That good quality was totally unexpected for me. I was never interested in One Direction at all. They couldn’t sing, poor performance on stages and songs were nothing to pay attention of. If those factors were ok because One Direction was a young and good-looking idol group made by a British reality TV, The X Factor, I was absolutely not for their target, a male in the age gap I could get a headache for myself. So the big news Zayn left One Direction didn’t catch my attention at all. I just read some backlashes against Zayn. Honestly, I didn’t think he would successfully come back. When Zayn came back with “PILLOWTALK”, I watched its video just for my curiosity. And it was an eye popping and jaw dropping moment. His solo debut single made me look forward to his upcoming first solo album. Would his album be like “PILLOWTALK”, or “PILLOWTALK” was just an exceptional song? And would he be able to maintain a good quality throughout the album?
The answer is “PILLOWTALK” clearly states Zayn’s own new musical direction on “Mind of Mine” album. Not only higher quality than One Direction, this is a very good album with attractive songs. This album isn’t for those fans who seeks his previous image because there is no cheesy dance song (some songs are still good for dancing). But if you close your eyes without any information or prejudice, I think you will like it. “Mind of Mine” is that kind of album.
First, “Mind of Mine” is not kids music anymore. Zayn said he expressed his influence of R&B but using the word “R&B” might be cheap for this album. I think the album is more on the adult contemporary side. Very artistic. Second, “Mind of Mine” isn’t Americanized even though Americans deeply related to its production. This is British music as he is. The album is mostly occupied by mid-tempo, dark, foggy and sentimental melodies. Sometimes so sentimental like Irish folk. No pop song at all. The only relatively danceable song is “LIKE I WOULD”, the second single, but still this song isn’t completely upbeat. It’s typically not easy to arrange a variety of songs with a similar tone in an album, but the album achieves to make differences and prevent boredom. Beside “PILLOWTALK” and “LIKE I WOULD”, “dRuNk”, “fOol fOr YoU”, “rEaR vIeW”, “wRoNg” (a nice combo with a female singer) and “INTERMISSION: fLoWer” are my favorites. I think I will listen “dRuNk” on the way back to home after getting drunk next time. I wanted to listen to his ethnic root as Pakistani on his solo album because he was now free to do anything with his music, and Zayn just did it in the most beautiful way on “INTERMISSION: fLoWer”. The folk guitar sound is so sentimental and fantastic. I couldn’t help but repeat listening to this very short song. There aren’t many intermission I want to listen repeatedly. I wish he would use this ethnic melody for a full-length song, I think it would still match with remaining songs. Probably one of the best intermission I’ve ever listened.
I think Zayn’s first solo album has a similar impact with Justin Timberlake after NSYNC, around “FutureSex/LoveSounds” album, and Beyoncé around “I Am” side of “I Am…Sasha Fierce” (not “Sasha Fierce” side) and “4” albums era. The former mega-band members created own high-quality albums with the different music directions and improved quality after being independent. But the significant different with Timberlake and Beyoncé is Zayn wasn’t the front person of One Direction. He was always behind other members. Plus Zayn’s music different with his former band is much bigger than the cases of Timberlake and Beyoncé. Now he’s on the front line with a good quality album. Not really a stereotyped story. As I wrote earlier, “Mind Of Mine” is not a pop album at all. It is interesting to see how he will gain new fans and listeners for his own success.
*The cover photo is from the promotion video of “PILLOWTALK” by Zayn.