Zayn Malik’s third album; Nobody Is Listening is a record upon a third, fourth and fifth listen I am still unconvinced by. His third full length album does to many degrees take risks and Malik must be applauded for this. However, for pop stars of Malik’s size, taking risks might please the thousands of super fans who adore your every move, but to honest music lovers, it can come across as somewhat cringey. Zayn’s current Spotify figures state he has over 24 million monthly listeners, and so the notion that nobody is listening simply doesn’t hold weight in an artistic sense. Those are the kind of numbers aspiring artists dream of.
Opening track, Calamity is the best example of the idea that some of the risks taken within this project struggle to pay off; Calamity begins with a soft and welcoming piano, before Zayn grumpily tells a sad and sorry story. This song has some kind of Rex Orange Country wannabe vibe. A spoken word verse doesn’t hit the spot, boring rhymes about his mind being a prison, locked up by the use of cannabis, before an attempted Mo Farah run line… This is a track which has weighting all the more important it being the first track of the album.
Calamity is saved however by Zayn going back to what he does well throughout the album, what he has done successfully in the twilight of his career and that is singing. Say what you want about One Direction’s members, but Zayn Malik is potentially the most musically talented, and his final verse to this disappointing opening track brings it at least some degree of listenability.
Second song; Better further reinforcing the argument that pop stars should in most cases stick to what they know best . It is a bouncy instrumental, accompanied by more sulky and sad lyrics.
That emotion continues into Outside which, to my surprise, made me stop almost laughing at Zayn’s lyrics, and actually listen. Barring the high pitched squeal mid verse, this is an enjoyable song. Some genuine sincerity to what is sung.
Just as I thought things could be on the up, and Zayn’s self-deprecating sulking could be making me actually feel something, the boring and repetitive Vibez interrupts the party. After an opening which, among many things, highlighted Zayn’s talented voice, this track reeks of auto-tune, in a song which simply doesn’t need it. Why and how I don’t know, Zayn’s process within his own production I am not aware of, but previous songs of his I have enjoyed most have been raw and untouched by the tools of modern pop music.
The interjection of a female vocal by Syd is welcome and warming on When Love’s Around; once again Zayn’s balanced and brimming raw vocal shines alongside Syd’s.
The most exciting instrumentals of the album come within the track; Connexion. An acoustic guitar beautifully strumming away in the background as well as a sensual saxophone. Both these instruments are drowned out however by Zayn’s attempts to constantly be reaching for unreachably high notes. This is a constant distraction throughout.
Windowsill sounds like Malik’s take on Post Malone, it isn’t a great imitation as is, but things worsen when ‘grime’ artist Devlin storms this party. Zayn’s singing and lyrics have a gentle and in some way, romantic angle, before Devlin’s aggressive rapping crudely completely changes the track’s direction.
The album finishes strong with; River Road. It is a simple ballad where the strum of another guitar features alongside, this time, a steady vocal which is a lovely combination.
Deep within the smoke and mirrors of Zayn’s attempts to write sexy lyrics about love making and smoking weed, are honest and raw stories of his struggle with fame and mental health. Essential and interesting topics that if the whole record focused on, might have had more weight, importance and potential relatability.