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Zayn matures on Room Under The Stairs

"Room Under The Stairs"

Release date: 17 May 2024
Zayn Room Under The Stairs cover
17 May 2024, 09:00 Written by Sophia Simon-Bashall

“Don’t take me for what I’m sayin’, just take me for what I am”, Zayn sings on lead single, “What I Am”.

It seems both a fitting introduction and an intriguing contradiction to his 4th album, Room Under The Stairs, which for the first time lays bare Zayn Malik the person, rather than Zayn Malik the star. Gone is the slick production of songs like "Dusk Till Dawn"; in its place more stripped-back instrumentation (with the occasional xylophone, inspired by his 4-year-old daughter, Khai). There’s nothing to hide behind, leaving his words – which, on this album, are solely his – as well as, of course, his voice, at the forefront.

His lyrics paint a pretty complete picture of Zayn as he is now – a dad, a farmer, and a lover, amongst other things. On the opening song, "Dreamin’", he sings of “dreamin’ [his] life away” over an acoustic guitar, and later on in ‘False Starts’ notes he’s “watching [his] life just roll past”, speaking to both contentment for what is and regret for past choices. On second single "Alienated", he questions his own sense of belonging, asking in a bluesy tone “Am I home if I don’t know this place?”. And yet, later in the record, he hints at a greater sense of rootedness, suggesting in ‘How It Feels’ that there’s “something holding me to this place”. These contrasts and snapshots of change are at the heart of the record, a product of 6 years of living, thinking, experiencing, and writing, which is reflected in how cohesive it is, the sounds and stories of each song leading naturally into the next.

Notably, even some of the most divergent songs have links to each other, in a way that feels very intentional. One of the most interesting songs on the album is ‘Gates of Hell’, which speaks to being in a place of utter inner turmoil, battling with yourself and your own thoughts. However, even at this low point, Zayn recognises the inherent worth of his journey, including his mistakes. Rather than dwelling only on his frustrations with himself and the opinions of those who “will call [him] a disgrace”, Zayn states “I know I’d do it all over the same”. It’s one of the record's key themes, that not everything meaningful is beautiful, and that the darkest and the hardest parts of this life are important, too. This is most poignantly reflected upon in "Grateful", a song full of such unwavering love that it is a touch overwhelming to listen to. Even “when the rain comes down”, Zayn is able to appreciate where he is at.

That’s not to say that it’s all deep and meaningful, nor that it lacks light, fun moments. "My Woman" is sexy in a classically Zayn style, but with a more mature, timeless feel than his previous output. There are, too, songs that feel a bit repetitive, perhaps unnecessary – "Concrete Kisses", for example, adds very little. However, these moments can be forgiven, easily lost in what is otherwise a gorgeous, intimate and thought-provoking record. "Stardust" is easily the highlight, and one that will lend itself perfectly to concert sing-a-longs, in time for the first live shows of his solo career. The lyrics of the chorus could feel cliche, crooning about “stardust floating all around us / shooting right across a big black sky”, but there is such a dreamlike quality that it hardly matters. It’s a little dream you can believe in because you’re sitting in the room under the stairs, too; at least, that’s what it feels like. They’re Zayn’s stories but they’re shared in such an honest, straightforward yet compelling manner that they feel like your own.

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