Album Reviews

Zayn – Room Under The Stairs

(Mercury/Island) UK release date: 17 May 2024

A more organic, acoustic approach, with earnestly strummed guitars and live drums. makes for smooth, polished and very listenable results

Zayn - Room Under The Stairs Of all the former One Direction members, Zayn Malik has always seemed the most reluctant to conform to the conventional expectations of boyband graduates once they go solo. After being the first to leave the group that made him globally famous due to frustrations around their material’s lack of edge and creative potential, Zayn has since released three solo albums which have gradually moved further and further away from One Direction’s pop roots, embracing R&B, vintage hip hop and soul.

On his new album, Room Under The Stairs (so named, apparently, because he actually recorded it in a shoe cupboard in his home), Zayn has evolved his sound again, this time towards a more organic, acoustic approach, with earnestly strummed guitars and live drums now providing the backdrop rather than the more familiar high energy electronic rhythms. Not only that, he’s teamed up with leading Nashville producer Dave Cobb, who counts Brandi Carlile and John Prine among his other collaborators, on what’s his first release for Mercury after being dropped by previous label RCA in 2021.

The end results are smooth, polished and very listenable. The gentler, more introspective vibe suits Zayn’s undeniably rich and emotive voice, and the country and jazz tinged musicianship is highly proficient throughout. Zayn co-writes almost all the songs with frequent collaborator Daniel Zaidenstadt, with the lyrical themes of vulnerability, disappointment and feeling an outsider predominating – although admittedly, couplets like “Got a big ol’ cup of shit, told me to drink it/Middle finger to what you believe” (on Concrete Kisses) don’t point to him becoming the new Leonard Cohen any time soon.

Although a tad overlong and samey after 15 tracks, occasionally drifting into wine bar background music territory, there are some immediate standouts on Room Under The Stairs. What I Am, released in March as the lead single for the album, is a soulful, bruised ballad with a lovely, gliding chorus, while next track Grateful is alternately languid and soaring, with Zayn given a platform to show off his full, impressive vocal range. Stardust (also a single) and Birds On A Cloud are lighter and poppier in the vein of Jack Johnson, but Zayn also gets darker too, notably on the closing, anguished James Blake-like Fuchsia Sea, which once again features an excellent, emotion-drenched vocal performance.

Room Under The Stairs further establishes Zayn’s credibility as a solo artist keen to establish his own voice rather than be held back by his talent show-manufactured past. It’s unlikely to propel his appeal to the stratospheric heights of fellow One Direction success story Harry Styles, but those willing to give it a chance will be pleasantly surprised at how adeptly Zayn has changed lanes.

buy Zayn MP3s or CDs
Spotify Zayn on Spotify

More on Zayn
Zayn – Room Under The Stairs
Zayn – Mind Of Mine