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Zayn - Icarus Falls Music Album Reviews

Zayn’s reputation as a skillful interpreter of pop is tested on his second solo album, a tome of love songs with a concept that hinges on excess and its trickery.

Zayn—fka Zayn Malik, fka one-fifth of the British boy-band supernova One Direction—named his second album after the myth of Icarus, the seraphic optimist who flew too close to the sun and snuffed himself out as a result. It’s in keeping with Zayn’s status as a reluctant pop star: He was the first member to depart from his Simon Cowell-sutured group (four months before the other four went on indefinite hiatus), his social-media presence is mostly low-key, and the promotion around his new releases are comparatively low-key affairs. Too much excess chatter, after all, results in the music, the reason Zayn became Zayn in the first place, receding to the background.

Mind of Mine, Zayn’s 2016 solo debut, was steeped in the dry-ice chills of modern R&B, Zayn’s still-lithe tenor guiding the listener through tremulous, sexually charged tracks. Icarus Falls, its followup, treads more of the same ground—a lot more, actually—while also serving up a few surprisingly sublime pop moments.

On first glance, the 27-track length of Icarus Falls indicates a data dump, those streaming-age behemoths made to be played on repeat by stat-happy fans while they sleep. And it’s partly that; Zayn told British Vogue that some of its tracks were rescued from the sessions for Mind of Mine, which resulted in some “60-something” completed songs. But Icarus Falls is actually a double album, cleaved in two by “Icarus Interlude,” which features Zayn hammering home the concept over spindly guitars. “I guess I flew too close to the sun/Myth’ll call me legend, that might be why,” he muses before label-dropping Yves Saint Laurent.

Icarus Falls opens with Zayn in love, or at least something like it: “Sweet baby, our sex has meaning,” he murmurs over the percolating guitars and plush synths of the album’s first track, the bedheaded devotional “Let Me.” (His ability to just barely pull off that bodice-ripper-worthy line is a sign of his skillful interpretative sense.) It’s a gorgeous opening, straddling the space between the breezy acousti-R&B that dominated the late ’00s and the snare-heavy rhythms of modern trap-pop while also flaunting Zayn’s falsetto. It’s followed by a slew of love songs, some of which leap from speakers a bit more readily: The sparse, snap-assisted “Back to Life” turns a lover into a lifesaver; “Stand Still” places Zayn, pleading in chorus with himself, within chilly synths and a rubbery guitar solo; the sumptuous “I Don’t Mind” rides a laconic groove with hope and swagger. Zayn’s belief in the power of love utterly blinds him on that last one—“You can tell me all your lies/I don’t mind,” he declares.

Then come the aforementioned interlude and the back half of the album, the new mood signaled by a sample of the tremolo guitars that open Nancy Sinatra’s torchy version of “Bang Bang.” Zayn’s wail zooms in, and we’re off to the races, plunging into love’s dark side on “Good Guy,” being emotionally withholding on “You Wish You Knew,” and writing a poison-pen letter to an ex on “Entertainer.” The more volatile lyrical content of the back half seems to feed into its more exciting, varied music—“Sour Diesel” reforms the “I Wanna Be Your Dog” bassline into a tether for blissed-out funk-pop, “Scripted” smashes and glues back together the string-laden ballad ideal, and the tense “Fresh Air” pairs fuzzy yet insistent drum-machine hits with a drowsy loop, underscoring the pressure-cooker lyrics that outline a relationship on the rocks. (There’s also “Good Years,” a jaundiced look back at One Direction past that, possibly ironically, echoes the sort of Ryan Tedder-style balladry that might have padded one of the group’s earlier albums.)

Icarus Falls, as a high-concept pop album, is fine. It shows off Zayn’s reluctant charisma and love-song-ready voice amid R&B ideas that are fully immersed in the present, for the most part for the better. True, it’s long, but given that its whole concept hinges on the idea of excess and its trickery, maybe that’s yet another sly wink from one of teen idoldom’s most enigmatic artists.


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