'There are some atmospheric moments, but it's difficult to take much joy from it'
Alexandra Pollard

00:00 25th March 2016

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It's about one minute and fifteen seconds into the first full-length track on Mind Of Mine that Zayn Malik first says the word "fuck." There's something endearing about the palpable relish he takes in saying it - in unfurling that rebellious streak he had to keep strictly PG as a member of One Direction. The trouble is, when his former band are making music that's more mature and left-field than ever before, Malik's going to have to do a little more than swear to prove his mettle.

Aside from Harry Styles perhaps - whose charm, sartorial flamboyance and subtle allusions to queerness read like a charismatic wink to camera - Malik was always the most interesting member of One Direction. So when he left the band, there was only one question more pressing than how they'd continue without him - what will his solo music sound like? Free from the shackles of SyCo and a pop-rock model with which he was never truly on board, could he finally produce the music he was capable of?

His languid falsetto comes into its own on the slinky, lo-tempo 'iT's You', though its lyrics are a little on the nose. "I won't, I won't, I won't / Cover the scars," he sings in earnest, "I'll let 'em bleed." There's an interesting string arrangement lurking in the shadows of the second verse, and a drum beat that sounds like it was lifted straight from Todd Terje's 'Johnny & Mary', but it never quite blossoms into anything with earworm staying power.

'BeFoUr' kicks off in the vein of 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye, as Malik's auto-tuned vocals declare, "I've done this before / Not like this." 1D fans will no doubt be poring over his every lyric for references to the band, and this song's alternative spelling feeds that fascination. 'Be Four' - is that an order?

The verse of 'sHe' sounds strangely like that of Rihanna's 'Work', though lyrically it's a slightly tedious tale of the clingy girlfriend variety. "She's crying out that she loves me," he despairs, "Holding my hands so I won't leave." Aside from a disorienting, scattered vocal effect near the end, it's unremarkable fare.

The less said about the final verse of 'lUcOzAdE' the better ("If this shit was it, girl, I probably would be rammin' ya) - and 'BLUE' is a dirge I found difficult to sit through.

Those eagle-eared fans will have a field day with 'tRuTh', and it's one of the most lyrically interesting tracks on the album. "This ain't my scene / This wasn't my dream," he says, almost quoting word for word his own post-1D interviews, "I got caught up in this game."

Malik's playing his own game now, and he's obviously relishing the opportunity. There's no doubting his noble intentions on Mind Of Mine, and there's some genuinely atmospheric moments. It's just presented with such po-faced intensity that it's difficult to take much joy from it.

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