A movement towards artistic maturity...

Stripped back soundscapes and notes of yearning are the foundation of Zayn Malik’s third studio album ‘Nobody Is Listening’. The project - which follows 2018’s ‘Icarus Falls’ - sees the former One Direction star grappling with musical maturity.

Described as his “most personal project to date,” the 11-track production seems to promise vulnerability and intimacy, and for the first few moments it appears to deliver exactly that. On opening track ‘Calamity’, Zayn looks back at the past 10 years of his life through dreamy, spoken-word vocals. “Nostalgia / What a funny feeling / I feel depleted from feelings I’ve been revealing… I say it for my sanity / Whatever the calamity / I did this for myself,” he raps over a soft, distant piano soundscape, immediately pulling listeners in.

If he’s most vulnerable and honest in the opener, he shuts it down instantly with the high-pitched, hand-clap-laden ‘Better’, which doesn’t add anything to the album. With distorted guitars and vocal delivery that doesn’t do justice to Zayn’s husky voice, the track is jarringly placed next to the infectious ‘Outside’, which marries Zayn’s crooning vocals with poignant lyricism. He sings, “I know I’m always in my head / Some things they must be said / Hurts me when I think about it / Someone else been in your bed,” on this compelling piece which is easily one of the stand-outs of ‘Nobody Is Listening.’

Lead single, ‘Vibez,’ is neither lyrically nor instrumentally impressive, but ‘When Love’s Around’ with its swirling soundscape of percussive-heavy beats is both catchy and intimate. On the casual yet intense, which also has the first feature of the album - from Syd, formerly Syd Tha Kid, of The Internet and Odd Future fame - there is effortless harmonisation as both Zayn and Syd showcase their vocal prowess with leisure. On the flip side, experimental, emo-rap offering ‘Windowsill’ which features British rapper Devlin is less impressive.

While 80-style soft-rock ballad ‘Sweat,’ is fun and catchy with a sprinkle of his brilliant vocals, it’s ‘unfuckwitable’ that showcases ZAYN at his best, with crooning vocals and relatable lyricism as he sings about being “tired of fake friends.” On penultimate track ‘Tightrope’ ZAYN takes listeners back to his roots, sampling swooning 1960 single ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand’ by legendary Indian singer Mohammed Rafi -much to the delight of Desi netizens and fans - with Urdu lyrics adding a layer of sincerity as he sings about spiritual love. Closer ‘River Road’ is another pop ballad, making for a full circle moment as he ends his third solo foray on a familiar yet enigmatic note.

Overall, ‘Nobody Is Listening,’ may be presented as his most personal project but it only offers negligible glimpses into Zayn’s personality. What it does well is make use of hazy R&B soundscapes to establish a connection with listeners even as spectators to the 28-year-old’s quiet contemplation. With minimal production and few moments of experimentation, the album is flawed and doesn’t add much to Zayn’s musicality, but it indicates that he’s achieved some sort of clarity on the direction he wants to take as a solo artist.

7/10

Word: Malvika Padin

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