Zayn Strips Down for His Third Solo Outing, ‘Nobody Is Listening’: Album Review
15th January 2021

Long before he left One Direction, just days after the launch of its final tour, Zayn Malik was obviously the member who was least jazzed about being in a boy band, and fame in general. He was the first to leave and the first to release a solo album, so it’s not surprising that after the blockbuster success of 2016’s Mind of Mine” and the over-reach of the sprawling follow-up (titled, with unfortunate foresight, “Icarus Falls”), he’s embraced a more stripped-down, intimate approach, one that’s much less deliberately pop.

Positioned as “the album he’s always wanted to make,” “Nobody Is Listening” opens with the moody, semi-rapped “Calamity,” a dark musing about mistrust and anxiety (“My brain lives with the cannabis/ Can I resist the dark abyss?/ Leave a mark on this with no start, just exist”), but then moves into a mix of lighter, low-key R&B and ballads, with lyrics almost entirely about love and sex; the one with most pop-friendly melody has a chorus about fucking on a windowsill. And while the warm vibe of the album is consistent with a major change in his life (he and longtime partner Gigi Hadid had a daughter in September), it avoids the wide-eyed, circle-of-life lyrics that so many new-parent artists indulge.

While “Nobody Is Listening” isn’t big on bangers (musical bangers, anyway), it shares a sensibility with songs by H.E.R., Pink Sweats, Daniel Caesar and other guitar-centric R&B even as the music keeps to a Timberlake-ian framework; it’s easy to imagine Malik strumming many of these songs at home on the couch. He played a much bigger role in the recording process here than before, executive-producing the entire album; with the exception of two songs with returning collaborator Saltwives, he works with a different producer on each track, few of whom are well-known. The only features are R&B singer Syd on “When Love’s Around” and British rapper Devlin on “Windowsill.”

And in a refreshing reversal from its 29-song predecessor, “Nobody Is Listening” is concise and to the point, breezing through 11 songs in 35 minutes. While each of his albums has been a reboot, this one is the most dramatic of all — and clears the table for whatever might be coming next.


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