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Album Review: Zayn – Room Under The Stairs

3 min read

Since his shock exit from the biggest boyband of the 2010s, Zayn Malik has been surprisingly out of the spotlight. Despite the success of his solo ventures, Zayn has stayed far more lowkey than his ex-bandmates, rarely performing live. After a three year hiatus his most recent outing shows a true change of direction for him.

With Room under the Stairs Zayn moves away from the R&B style that has been defining his solo career, embracing a country-inspired sound. Utilising a Nashville producer and the slower folk style reminiscent of artists such as Noah Kahan and Hozier. The change pays off, highlighting Zayn’s fantastic vocals and previously underrated lyrical ability. 

This country inspiration is very strong in the album’s first track What I Am which has an almost gospel-inspired chorus with layered vocals and background singers. The vulnerable lyrics, reflect what Zayn calls his most personal song yet, with him imploring the listener to “just take me for what I am”. It’s followed by Greater which continues the use of background vocals, but this time takes a more blues-inspired sound. He returns to the folk vibes of Alienated, which uses stripped-back production and guitar backing to tell a story that compares Zayn’s feelings of isolation with alien abduction.

My Woman is a tragically romantic song which allows Zayn to show off his impressive vocal range. The song taps into familiar folk music themes, with lyrics that suspect a lover of being unfaithful. How It Feels seems almost like a continuation of the theme as Zayn uses a piano ballad to beg his lover to give him a reason to stay. Stardust makes whimsical use of xylophone backing making the song feel dreamy, and the lyrics manage to be both catchy and emotive. The song marries the new more rustic instrumentals with R&B styling calling back to his previous solo albums, which comes together to create what may be the standout song of the album.

Gates of Hell could well be the very saddest song of the album where Zayn candidly sings of his inner turmoil. It is a call back to the emotional honesty of What I Am and its simple lyrics make it all the more impactful. Following it Birds on a Cloud and Concrete Kisses can’t quite distinguish themselves ending up feeling slightly lyrically confused and a little one-note. False Starts pulls it back with its poppy sound and catchy chorus and The Time is also strong with a powerful portion that highlights Zayn’s falsetto vocals.

Something in the Water is a catchy cheerful love song that utilises some usual production tactics, such as voice changes and effects that make it sound as if Zayn is underwater, to varying degrees of success. Shoot at Will is very personal, and discusses feelings about his daughter, with ex-partner Gigi headed, it’s another lyrically strong track that explores how love persists in different forms. The album ends with Fuschia Sea a psychedelic-sounding song, that finds its slightly lost amongst the emotive folk tracks proceeding it.

Despite a few out-of-place tracks, the overall album is poignant and emotive and truly highlights how far Zayn has come since his one-direction days.  Debuting at number three on the UK charts, Room under the Stairs may be a return to the top for Zayn.