After leaving A direction at the height of their fame to launch a promising solo career, Zayn Malik the musical journey has been fraught with pitfalls. From racism and Islamophobia to criticism for choosing your own mental health over a career in the industry, he has experienced everything and despite releasing a few albums since 2016 (“Mind Of Mine”, “Icarus Falls” and “Nobody Is Listening”), the Bradford-born artist, now residing in rural Pennsylvania, still left the stage and abandoned the celebrity lifestyle to dedicate himself to recalibrating the priorities and pressures of being one of the biggest music stars in the world. “I was staying away from what some might call the norm of my work,” he says. “Go to red carpets, do this, do that. I specifically stayed away from that. I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere and I wanted to be able to create from a raw, honest place. I didn’t need all the glitz and glamor of going to a fancy studio,” he explains. Thus was born his fourth album, “ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS”, an album six years in the making that explores themes of self-love, personal growth, responsibility and relationships, both in the platonic and romantic sense. .

Reminiscent of his alternative R&B style found on 2016’s “Mind Of Mine,” “Dreamin” and “Fuchsia Sea” share heavy expressions of overthinking and accepting a new lifestyle. Staying on a jazzy beat throughout, “Dreamin” features ZAYN’s remarkable vocals reaching new heights as he effortlessly weaves through R&B style tracks while the mournful, though still vocally angelic, “Fuchsia Sea” , sports a rawer tone due to vulnerable lyrics. like “I’m tired of the pain,” “I saw the flames and walked through them anyway,” and “How can you break when you’re broken to begin with?” »

Having always had the ability to be simple and honest, where this record highlights such vulnerability, ZAYN’s previous records have disguised it with dynamic and bright soundscapes; by adopting this stripped-down approach, recognizable on the majority of the record, ZAYN lets his audience in more than ever. Using real instruments, which instantly highlights a major distinction from his previous works, “What I Am” and “Alienated” have a timeless balance and are imbued with a carefree spirit despite their personally revealing lyrics. Struggling with feelings of detachment and loneliness, ‘What I Am’ shows the Bradford-born artist accepting himself as he is while ‘Alienated’ finds him still struggling with a sense of disconnection, existentialism and the desire to numb all pain. With lyrics that read like pages torn from a diary, these tracks place ZAYN at the forefront of a wave of contemporary male artists who aren’t afraid to embrace vulnerability. It’s this type of unflinching honesty and understated genius that marks an exciting shift that male artists can draw inspiration from; although it was something ZAYN always explored, its meanings seemed lost because of the colorful melodic settings, but that is no longer the case.

As he leans more into life’s rawer emotions, ZAYN offers multiple moments of true introspection, without an overriding sense of self-pity, as he channels Willie Nelson and Chris Stapleton with his candid approach singer-songwriter. The catharsis and passion that exists in the record’s spare sound brings an overwhelming measure of emotion to tracks such as “Concrete Kisses” and “Stardust” as ZAYN pulls back the curtains on his journey of healing and love- own. The introspective tracks, accompanied by soft-sounding synths, snare drums and acoustic guitars, lyrically detail how ZAYN found himself further healing (“Concrete Kisses”) and how he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic (“Concrete Kisses”) and how he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic (“Concrete Kisses”) and how he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic (“Concrete Kisses”) and how he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic (“Concrete Kisses”) Stardust”).

Even in the record’s poppiest moments, the same level of vulnerability remains at the forefront of the tracks. Brimming with what can be considered great energy for this record, “Birds on a Cloud” and “False Starts” revel in the feeling of freedom that comes with going out (“Birds on a Cloud”) and not be afraid of taking risks. (‘False start’). Reminiscent of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” due to its rhythm, “Birds on a Cloud” accelerates in a freewheeling and somewhat convincing jive for those reflecting on the night before as the “false starts” slowly build, almost as if they reflect the courage it takes to strive to do something. The tracks, in which ZAYN continually dives in and out of different emotions, make it pretty clear that you don’t need to feel sorry for him because he openly owns every experience he’s had. “Please give me one more day of happiness,” he begs in the old track. “I need it. I need it. Please give me one more day,” he refrains.

Both sonically and emotionally charged, “ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS” marks a striking evolution for ZAYN. It’s a revealing meditation on his journey through life where he lays bare his thoughts and feelings and the songs are built on a relaxing energy that can calm an audience in seconds. It’s a true coming-of-age story, rooted in an organic, live environment where he draws inspiration from genres such as soul, country and pop, and his lyrical sincerity and renewed creative freedom have brought his music in an exciting and interesting direction that no one saw coming. For an artist of such world renown Taking such a significant detour from its established approach is a brave move, but in this case it paid off. “ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS” not only shows ZAYN demonstrating a very natural outlet for his imagination, opening an intriguing new chapter in his career, but it also sees him explore the harsh notion of healing and self-discovery while remaining true to himself -even and that’s something his fans should be proud of.


Words: Shannon Garner