“Say goodbye to the past/Leave it all with a laugh,” ZAYN reflects on his single “Alienated” from his fourth solo LP ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS. The British Pakistani singer is learning now how time heals wounds. It was nearly a decade ago that he left One Direction and forged on alone, releasing three albums while bearing the public scrutiny of fame, high-profile relationships, breakups and in recent years becoming a father. Decamping to a farm in rural Pennsylvania provided a sanctuary from the noise, where, through nurturing his daughter, as well as animals and a garden, he learned his own ways of self-care. ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS refers to the space where ZAYN recorded the album: an actual shoe cupboard in his home. From familiar surroundings, he steps into largely unexplored territory, submerging himself in the stripped-back, country-inspired sounds he’d touched upon at the tail end of his third album Nobody Is Listening in 2021. Assisted by renowned Nashville producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile), ZAYN’s voice and lyrical vulnerability here are as raw and resonant as the acoustic instrumentation, with a weary soulfulness fit for the questions—about life, love, growth and parenthood—that emerge in the stillness of solitude. “I’ve been needing something else/I’ll know what it is when I see it,” he sings on album opener “Dreamin”. On the bittersweet "What I Am”, he sets boundaries and asks for acceptance, while reverberating guitars, cinematic strings and background croons create a vast soundscape for live-and-learn revelations on “Grateful”. Healing isn’t always linear, as the twinkling, wide-eyed love of “Stardust” whiplashes into “Gates of Hell”, which seethes with loathing. But it’s “The Time”, a song about the joy his daughter brings to his life, that shows ZAYN’s hard-won maturity.

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