Hot Tracks

Zayn Malik.

Former One Direction member Zayn Malik's 10-track debut solo effort is a valiant attempt to prove that he is more than just a cog in a pop music machine, drawing on everything from hip-hop to electronica and even Qawwali - a form of Sufi devotional music.

Although he denies the intent, the album is released exactly a year after he left the boy band.

At 23, he is also out to prove that he is a man now, mostly by way of slow jam sex romp songs and X-rated odes.

While he had crooned to a girl about her lighting up his world like nobody else during his almost four-year tenure with One Direction, he now sings about being in "bed all day", like on lead single Pillowtalk, a slow-burning R&B number that made it to No. 1 on Billboard, higher than any song he did with his former bandmates.

The sexual exploits continue with tracks such as Borderz and Drunk. But these low-tempo numbers tend to blend into one another after a while.

It is the quieter moments on the album, such as the falsetto-laced, impassioned love song It's You, that stand out and stay with you.

  • POP/R&B


    Zayn Malik


    4/5 stars

Working with Frank Ocean's producer Malay (James Ryan Ho) has proven to be his trump card, with track after track of The Weeknd-style R&B jams.

Liberated from having to share lead vocals with Harry Styles in One Direction, Malik uses his soulful voice to great effect on tracks such as Befour, an upbeat synth-pop number on which he takes a dig at his former band members: "So say what you wanna say, what you want/Shame is you won't say that to my face."

A standout track is Flower, which is sung entirely in Urdu, the language of his British-Pakistani father. More than any other track, the number, lasting one minute and 44 seconds, is a manifestation of his quest to reclaim his individuality.

Anjali Raguraman

It is hard to believe that the celebrated Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman is now 70. A long-awaited return to the recording studio yields this lovely coupling of lyrical violin sonatas from the late Romantic period.



    Itzhak Perlman, Violin

    Emanuel Ax, Piano

    Deutsche Grammophon 481 17741

    5/5 stars

His much-beloved sweet and singing violin tone is gloriously intact, undiminished by the intervening years. This is immediately apparent in the soaring opening melody of Frenchman Gabriel Faure's First Violin Sonata In A Major (1875), which is reciprocated by partner Emanuel Ax in the intricate and immensely taxing piano part.

A wide-eyed sense of fantasy occupies its four movements, which will touch even the most jaded of listeners.

This same exalted state continues into Richard Strauss' early Violin Sonata In E Flat Major (1887), its succession of flowing melodies finds the most sympathetic of interpretations. Has the slow movement, Improvisation, sounded this beguiling or beautiful?

Perlman and Ax are peerless in this repertoire and this album is a welcome addition into an already crowded field of excellent recordings.

Chang Tou Liang

The Polish-American virtuoso pianist Leopold Godowsky (1870- 1938) is best remembered for his outlandishly contrapuntal rearrangements of Chopin's Etudes and various outrageous piano transcriptions, but his original music has been much neglected.



    Konstantin Scherbakov, Piano

    Marco Polo 8.225276

    5/5 stars

Walzermasken (Waltz Masks) is a cycle of 24 pieces in three-quarter rhythm composed in 1912, essentially waltzes in elaborate costumes and disguises.

The tradition of waltz-cycles is not new and Godowsky does let one in on his secrets. Each piece is teasingly titled (such as Momento Capriccioso, Valse Macabre and Orientale) and there are tributes to Schumann (the ecstatic opening is reminiscent of his Carnaval), Schubert (lilting and rustic), Brahms (jaunty and vigorous), Chopin (lyrical and coy), Liszt (naturally virtuosic) before closing with Johann Strauss II (with Viennese voluptuosness).

As if one were not done with waltzes, the album closes with Godowsky's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Johann Strauss' Artists Life, another of those seemingly unplayable paraphrases. Siberia- born super-virtuoso Konstantin Scherbakov makes light work of its digital excesses and that is how it is supposed to sound: complex yet seemingly effortless.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe