Review: Mind of Mine by Zayn Malik

Mind of Mine by Zayn MalikHalfway through Mind of Mine, the debut album from erstwhile One Direction member Zayn Malik, you understand why he had to leave and do things his way. The boy band’s albums are filled with solid pop, aping the rock tunes the British loved back in the 1970s; yet that definitely feels like a template, and you can see why he might be stifled by that. Mind of Mine is Zayn unfurling his wings and flapping around a bit, feeling comfortable. Filled with the slinky, minimal R&B making waves in the pop world today, it feels unforced, just right – especially the first half of the record, where we’re all still paying attention to what exactly he can do. Problem is, Mind of Mine is really just Zayn jumping from one (strictly-enforced) template to another (albeit one that doesn’t choke as much). By the second half, you’ve really heard all of the tricks and the energy flags down a bit. But, sure, his intentions – to reinvent himself; to step away from One Direction’s shadow; to adult, as the kids say – are fulfilled. Now, to see if he can really flap his wings and change things up next time. [NB]3/5

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One week of One Direction: …and now we’re on the road again

“Night Changes” by One Direction | “I don’t think I can do that,” Rainy told me when I started listening to all four One Direction albums for this week of entries. Well, hun, I did it. And yet I get why you thought that way. Four is the group’s latest record: 1D now has the honor of being the first group to have their first four records debut on top of the Billboard charts. Yet, despite this underlying narrative of the boys growing up and maturing and even gaining some creative control over their songs – for instance, all five had a hand in writing “Night Changes” –  it all feels samey, right down to the opening track aping a classic rock track’s riff (this time, Journey’s “Faithfully”). To their credit, Four sounds a wee bit more forceful than Midnight Memories – it feels more anthemic now, particularly in “Clouds”, which I actually like – but, again, it’s a pattern I spotted in their two albums prior, particularly. This is weird. I swear I expected some more obvious maturation, but instead, this. Could it be the expectations? Two friends, who happen to be 1D fans, were curious about what I thought of their last two releases; that strikes me as “it’s quite good”. This is merely serviceable, and it’s frustrating because Directioners – the very people who’ll flood the MOA Concert Grounds this weekend – grow up, too. Or, or, or maybe I’m thinking this way because fatigue is setting in. Four One Direction records in a week, for a guy who isn’t a fan, and isn’t even predisposed to teen pop. Maybe I myself couldn’t do it. Maybe Rainy is right after all. [NB]

One week of One Direction: Made memories at midnight…

“You & I” by One Direction | The music video for this song has over 130 million views. Do not underestimate the fan base. No, I’m not. When Midnight Memories came out, I remember going, “man, these boys have grown up so fast,” but listening to the album, again, is a weird experience. The songs are more forceful, a bit more of this time, even, but simultaneously it’s also more of the same. And that’s weird. The lads have grown up, right? They’re now gonna take one of those 130 million girls to prom! Yet Midnight Memories seems to follow the template of its predecessor: opening track kicking off with a copied classic rock riff that’s off one note, some actually interesting tracks, and then everything melting into more of the same. But again, I am not the target audience, nor is this my leaning. Still, I wonder what the fans who’ve been with 1D from the start thought of this. It’s one thing if you’re starting out with this album, and another if you’ve been waiting all your life (to borrow millennial exaggeration) for this. Were they a bit disappointed? Does it even matter? [NB]

One week of One Direction: Took you home…

“Little Things” by One Direction | I haven’t always reviewed (purely) pop albums on the blog, partly because the genre’s not really up my alley, and partly because I don’t really have a good idea how to go about it. What do you say, exactly? One Direction’s sophomore release, 2012’s Take Me Home, was definitely produced to quickly capitalize on the really big reaction the lads got. It seems torn between two places. There was a bit more variety – the ballads, while surprising then, make sense now, although I don’t think they could do justice to Ed Sheeran’s lyrics – but at the same time, it clung on to the pop sensibilities of their debut, albeit with a wee bit more edge. And then it occurred to me: One Direction is a beginner’s guide to pop music, aimed squarely at teenage girls. This might sound like an insult, but it isn’t. We all have to start somewhere, right? I love Harry Styles singing to me about our chances together! This record spoke directly to their audience than the previous one, it seems to me, and that should ease them in towards more challenging stuff in the future. Wait. That still sounds snobbish. I still don’t get the devotion, outside the whole “cute, relatable guys singing about love” mantra. [NB]

One week of One Direction: Stayed up all night…

“Gotta Be You” by One Direction | So why am I writing about One Direction? For a week? Obviously, it’s their Manila concerts this weekend. You can scoff all you want about how this is merely frothy pop music, or about how the fans are being deadly crazy, but it’s definitely a big deal. At least it’s big enough of a deal to compel me to break format and dedicate a week to a boy band. I’m no stranger to this, though: I was a kid too, and I grew up during the peak of the Backstreet Boys. But pop acts never really did much to me. There were good songs, but it never fostered a frenzy. Girl groups were all about girl power; boy groups were all about girls ogling them. (My sister was a big fan of Blue, and had a particular crush on Lee Ryan.) Or I always had this “don’t be a loopy fan” streak in me. So I listened to 1D’s debut, 2011’s Up All Night, and felt incredibly meh about it. It is generic, especially outside of the singles – at least “What Makes You Beautiful” had good power pop sensibilities in it. Or it might be my tastes. This is going to be one weird week, indeed. [NB] (Update: Yes, this entry initially featured “What Makes You Beautiful”, but I have this rule of not writing about songs twice unless it’s on a list, and I broke that rule. I forgot. I am old. I know.)