Are 1D better off without Zayn?
There's certainly an argument for it. Aside from blank pouty stares, Malik was essentially deadweight to the band - he offered little in the way of songwriting, occasionally sang some falsetto money notes, and refused to dance. So far, the band seem to be doing fine without him thank you very much, whilst Malik is free to pursue a career making his beloved R&B music that's probably doomed to fail.
On the flip side, perhaps he wisely got out early. If 'Made In The A.M.' is anything, it's the sound of a boyband grown tired and weary, dragging their heels onto the stage to perform to endless hordes of tinnitus-inducing fans. Perfect may imitate Taylor Swift in its construction, but it equally depicts the boys' superstar status and their inability to hold down a relationship. They are far from normal and one argument for their imminent hiatus is that they crave normality.
For better or worse, 1D have essentially turned into Coldplay with rock ballad after rock ballad. This is by far their most emotional album to date, with grandly evocative song titles like Perfect, Infinity and If I Could Fly coupled with downbeat melodies and an utterly dejected vocal delivery. Even the album's arguably most loving moment, What a Feeling, sounds wistful and distant.
Added to that are the constant farewells. This album campaign may have begun with the boys singing "nobody can drag me down", but the album at large suggests otherwise: End of the Day, Love You Goodbye, History. It's obvious this is the end of an era, seemingly inspired as much by the departure of Malik as their uncertain future.
It's commendable that the boys have written their own music and it's easy to see the progression of their songwriting ability across their output. 'Made In The A.M.' is their most complete and confident album to date, but what's missing is a sense of pop fun. Drag Me Down may be the catchiest and most radio friendly moment, but it's not until Never Enough that we finally hear the boys sonically let loose. It's followed by Olivia, with an amusingly descending hook that could only have been written by Mr Styles.
1D are meant to be a pop band. Yet what's missing from 'Made In The A.M.' is a Kiss You, a Diana, a Little White Lies or a Stockholm Syndrome. The boys may have matured over the last five years, but they've also grown thoroughly depressing. Money, fame and success clearly aren't everything.
Maybe Zayn was right to quit after all.
* Drag Me Down
* Never Enough
* What a Feeling
Listen: 'Made In The A.M.' is available now.