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‘Mind of Mine’ review: Zayn Malik is back with R&B tunes

"Mind of Mine" is Zayn Malik's debut album as a solo performer. Photo Credit: RCA Records

THE GRADE A

BOTTOM LINE The former boy bander heads off in his own soulful direction.

Zayn Malik’s unexpected exit last year from One Direction, at the height of the boy band’s stadium-filling fame, seemed like one of the most ill-advised moves in pop music history at the time.

Now, with the release of his debut, “Mind of Mine” (RCA), exactly one year after he left the band, Malik’s move seems nothing short of brilliant.

Timing, after all, is everything. And “Mind of Mine” now positions Malik at the tail end of The Weeknd’s promotional cycle and before Frank Ocean unleashes his much-anticipated follow-up to “Channel Orange.” Malik’s brand of R&B bridges the gap between the two, with a bit of pop-leaning Justin Timberlake thrown in for good measure.

The mix is obviously right on time, considering how his first single “Pillowtalk” debuted at No. 1, something One Direction has never done. “Pillowtalk” is a good introduction to the album, featuring the push-and-pull of a relationship that refers to their bed as “It’s our paradise and it’s our war zone.”

However, “Mind of Mine” only gets deeper and more impressive from there.

On “It’s You,” Malik’s clear, swooping, Sigur Rós-like falsetto rings true on the tender, spare ballad, which producer Malay opens with an organ sound similar to the one he used for Ocean’s memorable “Bad Religion.”

While Malik may not have Ocean’s lyrical depth just yet, this is also no teenybop album. The 23-year-old’s skill makes “BeFour” — which seems to be a rebellion against the constraints on him during his time in One Direction — a sleek, groove-filled good time, even while adding the final kiss-off, “I’ve done this before, not like this.”

Whether it’s the decadent, lush “Drunk” or the stark “Wrong,” warmed up nicely by Kehlani, “Mind of Mine” is clearly Malik’s creation, one that may take him to unexpected new heights just by being himself.

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