Zayn Malik’s sophomore album flies too close to the sun
Zayn Malik released his sophomore album, “Icarus Falls,” on Dec. 14. This sultry and rhythmic R&B album contains 27 tracks and is separated into two discs. Since leaving boyband One Direction in 2014, Malik has released many hit singles, appearing alongside top selling artists such as Sia and Taylor Swift. His first solo album, “Mind of Mine,” debuted at No. 1 on British and American charts.
It appears that “Icarus Falls,” however, will not be following Malik’s prior success. After half-hearted promotion from Malik and his team, “Icarus Falls” has struggled on the charts since day one. Though he released singles off the album leading up to its release, they all went virtually unnoticed and received little air time from radio stations. There is no stand out single, and therefore a lack of interest being generated about the album as a whole.
The album is conceptual and is modeled after the legend of Icarus. According to Greek mythology, Icarus received wings made of wax from his father, who warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, or else the wax would melt. Icarus ignored his father’s advice and flew as high as he could before his wings melted and he fell into the sea. This is not exactly a hopeful message to base a long-awaited for second album off of, and Malik’s wings seem to be melting already. The first disc contains 13 tracks, and seems to illustrate Icarus’s flight. The second portion of the album then symbolizes the inevitable fall back down to earth.
The first disc is more or less a classic R&B album. Most of the songs depict a relationship with a woman and speak to themes such as true love and lust. The opening track “Let Me” showcases Malik’s breathtaking falsetto that shot him to stardom in the first place. The song is mellow and vibey, and introduces Malik’s softer side, which is explored in the first 13 tracks. The woman in the songs seems to be a motivating force in Malik’s life, and a savior in some ways to him. The third track, “Back to Life,” is a catchy and passionate tribute to this woman. The track opens with calm guitar strokes and Malik’s soft rifts rising in power. In the chorus, Malik belts out “Honestly, she’s the only one that’s watching over me,” hinting at Malik’s struggles in life while also maintaining the theme of the power of true love.
Of the first 13 tracks, “Common” is by far one of the strongest. A gentle piano plays in the background of a strong beat, and Malik’s powerful yet soft voice is hypnotic. When Malik belts put “When I hold you in my arms / There ain’t nothin’ common ’bout us” the listener can truly feel his passion for the subject of the song. While this song stands out, many of the rest fail to do so. Songs such as “Natural,” “Imprint,” and “Flight of Stars” feel generic and, due to the lengthy nature of the album, are entirely forgettable. The listener may wonder why some of the more generic songs were not cut from the final track-list all together. The length of the album is by far a downfall, especially with so many song that do not feel necessary.
After the album’s 13th track “Icarus Interlude,” the themes and production of the following songs paint a much darker image of love, fame and what Malik truly thinks of himself. “Icarus Interlude” opens slow and melodic, with Malik’s voice murmuring “guess I flew too close to the sun / Myth will call me legend.” The concept of flight portrayed in the first 12 tracks sets up the idea of “falling” in the remaining songs. The 14th track “Good Guy” opens up with alluring, yet ominous guitar notes as Malik warns his love interest “Don’t you fall for me, girl / I’m not the right kind / I’m a bad man.” This song marks a shift of the lovestruck, tender man in the previous songs.
The rest of the second disc explores the darker side of Malik’s mind. He speaks to the hardships of fame and the superficiality he sees in those around him. “Satisfaction” opens up with thudding drum beats and Malik’s hauntingly soft voice singing that “life is always in the way,” possibly speaking to fame and how he has struggled in the spotlight. “Satisfaction” succeeds in utilizing Malik’s voice to convey emotion in ways the songs “Insomnia” and “Entertainer” do not. It is not as though Malik’s voice ever wavers in strength or talent, but the songs feel like replicas of any R&B artist, with nothing personal holding to Malik.
Malik has always been a sort of enigmatic figure in the industry, and the release of his second album does nothing to define who he is as an artist in any way. After being molded into the “bad boy” of One Direction, Malik grew evidently miserable over the years of constant stadium tours and the carefully crafted persona Malik had to maintain in order to please his fans. He eventually split with the band in 2015, and has since been floating around the limelight, without ever fully immersing himself in his potential.
One of the second disc’s strongest ballads, “Good Years” will have any One Direction fan aching with nostalgia and pain for what the band put its members though. Even before Malik split with the band, it was evident that he had lost a spark and had been struggling with the idea of being in the spotlight. Among drug and alcohol abuse, Malik also struggled with an eating disorder. Listener’s can’t help but reminisce on the stadium tours he participated in with his fellow boybanders when Malik belts out “I close my eyes and see a crowd of a thousand tears / I pray to God I didn’t waste all my good years.” “Good Years” is a tragic song about regret and conveys the feeling trapped that Malik felt while in One Direction.
Malik is also at his strongest in the album when he explores new sounds and experiments with the genre. There are funky, synth-inspired beats in “Sour Diesel” and “Rainberry.” It makes the listener wish Malik was more experimental in more of the album’s 27 tracks. “Rainberry” is also an example of smooth and sexy funk that breaks from his typical R&B mode. These songs are mysterious and maintain Malik’s brooding image, yet they sound distinct and could really define him as an artist. The only problem is that they are drowned out by the 20 other more generic, less inspired songs.
Overall, the album is too long and convoluted, which shows in record sales. Despite a long tracklist, no song stands out. “Icarus” does not deviate enough from “Mind of Mine,” and many of Malik’s new songs feel as though they were mere leftovers from his first album. The instrumental production of each song feels too similar, and it is hard to truly pull each track apart or find a distinction between them.
The concept of Icarus is gently touched upon, but mostly feels forced on the album. The concept of flight and fall is interrupted and distracted by the album’s length, and therefore is not as poignant as the message could have been. While it is understandable that this previous boybander may have gotten so close to the limelight that his wings may have melted, it is not a strong message to send for his solo career. Icarus falls to the earth never to return again. Let’s hope that Malik’s solo career does not follow in the same direction.
Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — firstname.lastname@example.org