Zayn defines himself as an artist in solid sophomore album ‘Icarus Falls’

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Grade: 3.5/5

After a hiatus of nearly three years, Zayn’s long-awaited sophomore album, Icarus Falls, has arrived and has shown a more mature side of the artist to his fans.

After leaving the immensely popular boy band, One Direction, in 2015, Zayn’s fate was uncertain — many questioned whether he had the talent and appeal to be successful as a solo artist. The release of Zayn’s debut album, Mind of Mine, a year later, was the introduction of a new, sulky R&B persona. Its sultry songs were a turn away from the fun and upbeat music of One Direction and marked the beginning of a new, rebellious image for the pop star. Mind of Mine fared well with fans and was relatively critically successful, but it wasn’t enough to solidify his personality as an artist and a public figure.

With Icarus Falls, however, Zayn does this successfully. Through his exploration of different styles and a simultaneously overarching and cohesive mood, Zayn creates a solid album that helps define his style and personality as a brooding and enigmatic pop star with R&B tendencies. Like his last album, Icarus Falls presents a consistent selection of R&B tracks and incorporates enjoyable pop moments that create a sense of balance throughout the album.

The album is 27 tracks long — a length that is daunting at first but seems to work considering its organization. It’s divided into two parts, with the first half being full of head-in-the-clouds romance and the second exploring the artist’s battles with fame and relationship issues. The album’s two sections are separated by “Icarus Interlude,” a moody midpoint that marks the transition and exacerbates the contrast between the first and second halves.

Icarus Falls begins with 12 love songs that dance between R&B and pop. The romantic first track, “Let Me,” sets the tone well: Its acoustic instrumentals and R&B rhythm complement Zayn’s smooth voice as he lovingly propositions, “baby let me be your man, so I can love you.” The album continues with several other serenades, from the more upbeat pop song “Imprint” to the slow and dreamy “Stand Still.” “There You Are” stands out as a classic boyband moment, while “I Don’t Mind” incorporates experimental vocal moments and fun background beats. That being said, Zayn plays it safe and falls a little flat on songs such as “If I Got You” and “Talk to Me.” They aren’t weak songs, but the beats feel repetitive, making them seem like unnecessary additions.

After this comes the slow and sulky “Icarus Interlude,” the point at which the album turns away from sweet romance and explores darker themes. Sampling the guitar of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang,” Zayn shines in “Good Guy” as he claims, “don’t you fall for me girl, I’m not the right kind.” Other highlights include the electric guitar-backed “Sour Diesel” and the sultry “All That.” In “Good Years,” Zayn details his anxieties surrounding life in the spotlight, followed by his equally honest expression of romantic hopelessness in “Insomnia.” While the songs in the second half are more brooding in general, it has its fun and catchy moments — “Rainberry” and “Entertainer” are notable additions that lighten the mood and add an upbeat note to a largely dark collection of songs. The album’s second half as a whole is sincere and raw, and its assortment of R&B beats and classic cadences make it an enjoyable selection that does its job well.

The album’s drawn-out length — it runs at an hour and 29 minutes — is more of a minor pitfall than an outright failure. While the length makes sense considering the double-album structure, it still feels tedious at times. But the addition of experimental tracks such as “Good Guy” alleviates this drawback and keeps things interesting.

Icarus Falls is a solid moment in the development of Zayn’s public persona and style as an artist. Though the album can feel too long and tends to fall flat at times because of its repetitiveness, the decent amount of explorative material and well-thought-out structure make up for it in part. With a balance between consistency and an exciting novelty, the album is an enjoyable listen and solidifies Zayn as a music industry and pop culture star.

Contact Salem Sulaiman at [email protected].