Over the past half decade, R&B has increasingly staggered off the dancefloor in a daze, landing on expensive soft furnishings to stare into an empty glass. The man mostly – but not exclusively – responsible for this development is Abel “The Weeknd”’ Tesfaye, whose heavy-lidded influence on the mainstream shows little sign of abating. As the success of Justin Bieber’s recent Purpose album testifies, the trend for horizontality in pop has transformed even that former teen irritant into a slinkier figure. Next up is Zayn Malik, whose departure a year ago triggered One Direction’s split.
Although Malik reports that much of Mind of Mine was recorded in a mobile studio in the woods, virtually everything on his debut solo seems to take place at 3am in some unimaginably squishy VIP area beyond the VIP area. There’s the convincing, close-whispered seduction of Be Four, which might have cracked the internet when Malik – generally understood to be 1D’s most musical asset – held a sultry high note (and dropped a reference to 1D’s Four album).
Witness the fuzzy over-indulgence of Drunk … Malik rhymes “amnesia” with “I need you” with a velvety slur
Witness, too, the fuzzy over-indulgence of Drunk, one of the album’s most involving cuts. Here, Malik rhymes “amnesia” with “I need you” with a velvety slur that exemplifies the unshowy elasticity of his delivery throughout. The album’s intro and interlude find him nodding towards near-eastern vocal styles, an elegant flourish.
Then there’s the heartbreak. Malik’s severed engagement to Perrie Edwards is extensively mined on these songs, with Malik looking to Usher for crooning cues. While some of these tracks are a little unmemorable, sticking blindly to Malik’s new template at the expense of imagination, a few have unexpected depths. It’s You boasts churchy organ, Malik’s dulcet falsetto and an arresting lyric. “She don’t/ She don’t/ She don’t give a fuck about what I need,” Malik sings, with little-boy-lost desolation, “And I can’t tell you why/ Because my brain can’t equate it.”
Mind of Mine may suffer from this lack of variety, but Malik pulls off his transformation into a brooding, tattooed loverman convincingly. He was always 1D’s most introverted, softly spoken member; an interview last year revealed, however, he’s handy with a crossbow. Malik’s attempts to take 1D into R&B territory were often rebuffed, so it’s easy to read the sultry Like I Would – the album’s most outgoing cut – as an alternative take on 1D’s I Would.
If The Weeknd’s wooze imbues this record, other able hands have shaped it. After abortive sessions with Emeli Sandé’s producer Naughty Boy ended in much-publicised bad blood, this record now largely bears the sophisticated stamp of Frank Ocean’s producer James “Malay” Ho. Mind of Mine’s success is something of a no-brainer – its single, Pillowtalk, went to No 1 in umpteen countries earlier this year, despite audibly severing ties with 1D’s sound. But for all its inevitable ubiquity, this downbeat, low-lit album has the bonus of not being in your face at all.