National Music Reviews

Republic Records
Street: 05.17
ZAYN =  John Legend x James Blunt

Listening to Zayn Malik’s music is truly akin to getting a look inside the mysterious artist’s head. That’s never been more true than in his latest release, ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS—and not just because of the clever album cover: a white and blue play of his silhouette and what is inside of his head.(Zayn told Apple Music that the album name is a nod to where he recorded it, a “shoe cupboard” in his home.) 

The 15-track album is a triumph for Zayn for a multitude of reasons — starting with his skillful vocals. During his time in One Direction, Zayn was known for his masterful note changes and melodic bridges.

ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS gives a slight country twist to Zayn’s usual R&B sound. Take for example the twangy guitar on the album opener “Dreamin,’”which sets the tone of the album right off the bat with the opening lyrics, “Let me mean it / what I say / I been feeling / Yeah and dreamin’ my life away.” The tone is one of exploration, of solidified realizations and the discovery of even more questions. 

On the following 14 tracks, Zayn grapples with both things he knows and things he doesn’t. Those ideas, which are often hard to put into words, are bracketed by his adaptable vocal range and gentle, lo-fi production.

Grateful” is another track that exemplifies this theme perfectly, showcasing how Zayn has figured some things out, but is still growing in other areas. “Things change and I’m okay with what I’m not,” he croons.

When he first debuted as a solo artist in fiery glory with Mind of Mine, Zayn made his sound and musical presence clear in an addictive sort of way. He was so sure of himself on that first album, even if he himself didn’t perceive that to be true. Despite the fact that his middle two albums have been largely forgettable, with the exception of a handful of gems.

If Mind of Mine felt like a R&B haze, then ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS is the equivalent of coming out of that haze. Throughout his entire discography of work, Zayn has been patent about his vulnerability. “Alienated” is one example of this, a song that personifies always feeling like you’re at a distance. Songs like “Gates of Hell” and “Concrete Kisses” allow him to showcase a more singer-songwriter side to balance out his R&B roots.“Birds on a Cloud” is another vulnerable track, as Zayn begs for “one more day of happiness” in the chorus.

This album also has some refreshing tracks that are lighter and less heavy and angsty, like “Stardust,” a playful track and “False Starts,” which seems to tackle Zayn’s struggles with anxiety.

But, the album ends with “Fuchsia Sea,” an ode to still being pulled under a sea of doubt and hardship. Closing the album with this track shows that for all his growth, Zayn is still growing. It’s also reminiscent, in a way, of the themes from his earlier track “lUcOzAdE.”

ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS or “RUTS” — the cheeky and clever album acronym, is a sign that Zayn can and should get more adventurous with his music. It’s also a sign that he still has that magic music factor of being an intuitive, thoughtful writer and musician. Getting out of his head, through music, is clearly therapy for the artist. Palak Jayswal

Read More of Palak’s Musical Ponderings here:
Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poet’s Department
Maggie Rogers – Don’t Forget Me