Our Take: 2.5 Stars
The theme of Zayn Malik’s new album, “Nobody is Listening,” is fairly self-explanatory — he wonders if anyone is still listening to him, and for the most part, he seems convinced that nobody is. Sadly, it appears that nobody is listening to this album, either.
After two years, Malik’s previous album, “Icarus Falls,” barely scratched the surface of the Top 100 and quickly fell down the charts. Time will tell if “Nobody is Listening” will do any better — but commercial success seems unlikely.
The opening track for this album, “Calamity,” begins with the lyric, “My brain lives with the cannabis / Can I resist the dark abyss / Leave a mark on this with no start, just exist,” a wince-inducing opener that makes him sound like a teenage stoner rather than a 28-year old experienced singer. While it is interesting to see him exploring the realm of different musical genres, his rapping sounds like that of an amateur, blasé and dispassionate.
Later songs in the album do not leave him a window to redeem himself, either.
Malik’s attempt at an R&B-esque genre is not authentic by any stretch of the imagination, and as a result, it is a little challenging to take his confessional ballads seriously.
As he takes us through his relationship with model Gigi Hadid and through personal insecurities, the combination of diluted guitar strumming and unimpressive songwriting leads audiences to a general apathy for the music in “Nobody is Listening.” These early songs set the tone for the rest of the album.
As Pitchfork’s review of the album points out, “the album’s most tolerable songs fixate on the physical, a pulsating goo of slow drums and reverbed descriptions of skin mashed against skin.”
Songs like “When Love’s Around” and “Tightrope” signal a shift in tone from the acoustic openers but do not do much to alleviate the quality of the music in this album from its general dissonance. The contrast between the deeply personal songwriting in the earlier songs and overtly physical details in these songs is off, and does not translate well to audiences.
The album has some redeeming features, of course. Malik’s vocals, such as his resonating falsetto, barely compensate for the general inexperience Malik shows in exploring a different genre of music.
Malik clearly still has a knack for singing a love song, and songs like “Better” provide a beautiful retelling of a romantic story in its truest, simplest coffee-shop-esque form.
All in all, “Nobody is Listening” shows Malik at a crossroads in terms of his career, as it is still unclear whether he is interested in producing Top 100 hit music or soulful, intimate music meant for the most avid of his fans.
If anything, this album shows that he cannot, unfortunately, have both.