By: Nicholas Palmer
Moving away from his sophomore album, Zayn Malik has never felt both further away from his time in One Direction and closer to a style all his own. In his third studio album, Nobody is Listening, Zayn brings together some of the closest personal elements of his life into a construction of artistry that he's not done before. Being described as such, Zayn had total creative liberty throughout the entire album, from lyrics all the way to the album artwork. The album has its ups and its downs, but what it does best throughout it is share the soul of Zayn in the way that an artist could not have done any better.
In his album, Zayn gives a personal touch to his music that gives a real connection between the message and the melody. In Nobody is Listening, he plays upon the perception of fans who never listen to celebrities’ real voices in which they talk about their grief and pain beyond the façade of the mysticism of fame. Throughout the album, Zayn deals with topics such as his anxiety, past eating disorder, his use of cannabis as a calming agent and his relationship with Gigi Hadid. For fans, this album speaks as a reflection of the artist himself and a true connection between Zayn and his audience. And, just as with the single “Vibez,” sometimes you have to just not be afraid to be yourself. Because in the end, nobody is even truly listening.
Personal highlights of the album come from the single “Better,” along with the tracks “When Love’s Around” and “Sweat.” “Better,” the first of the two singles, gives the first taste of the album’s main musical stylistic elements of R&B, pop, and maybe even a little soul. Harkening to almost an emotional ballad of sorts, with underlying lyrics hinting to his relationship with Gigi Hadid, this serves as a representation of the type of artistry present throughout.
“When Love’s Around” includes one of the two feature artists included on this album, Syd, with Devlin providing great moments as well in “Windowsill.” WLA is a song that has some of the most interesting instrumental moments of the whole album with keyboards, synths, drums and guitars all combining beautifully. As well, Syd’s vocals in harmonization with Zayn’s creates some of the most powerfully emotional melodies you will hear from Zayn yet.
For “Sweat,” its message of physical love is consistent with other parts of the album, however, the vocals and harmony are perhaps Zayn at his best. The elongated vowels that split up the chorus bring the passion reflected in the lyrics, creating a piece that is as powerful in text as it is sonically.
That is not to say that there are not some elements that do not detract from the album on the whole. One thing that I have seen criticism of Zayn over is his lack of proper enunciation, with mumbling often being described in his singing style. As well, this album does not do him any favors in combating that criticism, although it does have its charm at times. While the lack of big instrumentation may be reflective of the message and title of the album itself, it is unfortunate a couple more larger production pieces could not have been included. This would have helped to break some of the repetition and similarity that took place from time to time.
Ultimately, I find this album to be almost transitional in nature for Zayn. A piece that feels so distant from his past performance nature but also gives just a taste of his best qualities, Zayn feels right at the moment to create a truly sensational piece of music in the coming years. While it is likely that this album will not perform as great as many fans may hope for, the talent and direction of Nobody is Listening is interesting for Zayn. With this album being so closely personal for him, he makes it evident that he’ll keep on singing even if there’s nobody left to listen.