Published Mar 24, 2016After an extended period of hushed anticipation promising an edgier, all-grown-up, one-name-only Zayn, the UK singer finally unleashed his debut solo single "Pillowtalk" earlier this year. Showing signs of a more mature pop star — one who drops f-bombs, dry humps his girlfriend on camera and weeps blackened tears — the track, its accompanying video and now, his full-length album, valiantly attempt to distance Zayn from his past as one fifth of the manufactured boy band machine that spawned One Direction.
In some ways, it works; the songs on Mind of Mine certainly skew towards more mature content and a sleeker, less bubblegum-y pop sound that's implemented expertly by producer Malay on silky smooth PBR&B-lite ballads like "It's You." It works less well on cuts like Kehlani collaboration "Wrong," which is gratingly heavy-handed with the Auto Tune — a problem that again rears its whiny head on "Fool for You."
These are weird times facing a whole cohort of teen pop stars trying to transition into successful adult performers with sustainable careers (see: Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande), so it's only natural that there are painfully awkward adolescent missteps along the way (at least, for anyone who's not Taylor Swift). Unfortunately for Zayn, there's a lingering feeling of forced "Look at me, I'm a grown up!" campaigning that characterizes songs about blurry club nights ("Drunk") and taking it off ("TIO").
And while Mind of Mine will probably surpass expectations for the One Direction-hating doubters, it will still be a hard sell to convince new listeners to stick it out all the way to its end. By the end of all 14 songs (18 on the deluxe edition, for the truly ambitious), it doesn't quite feel like the sultry, steamy soundtrack for highly hormonal post-teen fans it was supposed to be; there's just a bit too much clumsy foreplay here weighing down the moments of ecstasy. (RCA)