Zayn Malik could have been Icarus. He was flying high, above everyday life with the once-in-a-generation boyband, One Direction. After leaving the group, his path seemed rocky. His debut album, 2016’s ‘Mind Of Mine’, on which he adopted an R&B persona, was critically and commercially successful, but it never truly felt like Zayn. So it’s pleasing that his aptly titled second album, ‘Icarus Falls’, is Malik’s most daring project yet.
Across its dauntingly deep 27-song track list, ‘Icarus Falls’ boasts a varied sense of style. With themes of universality, the album offers a full spectrum of emotions and feelings, luxuriating in its capacity to be relatable. Split by the track ‘Icarus Falls’, the record is neatly divided in two, an indication of Zayn’s apparent desire to be considered a Serious Artist. Regardless of their tone, each song is perfectly crafted.
Album opener ‘Let Me’ sets the quality high, and the album rarely drops below the standard it sets. Power ballads and anthems made for stadium tours slot in alongside soft bedroom pop songs. The record’s first half consists of love letters. Whether they’re addressing Zayn’s on/off partner Gigi, or his singing to his hordes of fans, Malik burrow deep into the listener’s feelings. The lyrics are clean, simple – they’re meant to be sung along to, alone, in your bedroom. Take the opening lines to ‘Tonight’: “Just let me talk, you know what I’m sayin’ / Don’t give me that, girl I know you’re stayin’ / Where you goin’? You feel that space, it’s mine.”
On ‘Icarus Falls’, which marks the album’s halfway point, over bright Spanish guitar and a ghostly bass-line, he sings, ‘Call me Icarus / I guess I flew too close to the sun / Myth’ll call me legend, that might be why / In my Yves Saint Laurent / Get the bees coming in for the honey I supply.” This is as honest a Zayn as we’ll likely ever get. Since his ascension to stardom and subsequent departure from One-D, he’s kept a relatively low profile. His crew is tight. And the second half of the album addresses the biggest demon he’s had to face since – himself.
One Direction and ‘Mind of Mine’ is where Zayn cut his teeth. But it’s on Icarus Falls that he really strikes upon his potential. On ‘Entertainer’, his lyrics are razor-sharp: “You thought you had me, didn’t you? When you lied to my face, I could see the truth every step of the way / I knew How you fooled me, boo” .Where the first-half was head in the clouds, heart full of love, the second half is Zayn showcasing his abilities to the fullest: ‘Sour Diesel’, an early single produced by Frank Ocean collaborator Malay, slaps with its boom-bap ’80’s influenced bass-heavy drums and vocals. ‘Rainberry’, an R&B-infused tune created for the club, is warm and intimate, while ‘There You Are’, with lyrics such as “Need you when I’m broken / When I’m fixed / Need you when I’m well / When I’m sick / Friends that I rely on / Don’t come through / They run like the river / But not you” , is a definitive long song.
There are gentle reminders as to Zayn’s force, as his voice twirls around in tandem with the production, one never out-doing the other, always in synchronised harmony. He’s the most successful former One Direction member with good reason, and this album is a high-water mark for the 25-year-old. A 27-track mosaic to be poured over time and again, ‘Icarus Falls’ is the pop star cementing himself in the echelon of stardom.