With a dramatic 2015 departure from One Direction and the release of his stellar contemplative debut album “Mind of Mine” in the same year, few artists have made a name for themselves so early in their careers in the way that Zayn Malik did. Unfortunately, since “Mind of Mine,” Malik has twice failed to prove 2015 was not a fluke: first with “Icarus Falls” (2018), which felt more like background music than a 29-track feature album, and again with his latest release on Jan. 15, “Nobody is Listening.” From its monotonous tracks to its unoriginal lyrics and melodies, “Nobody is Listening” feels like a half-hearted attempt to emulate the introspection of “Mind of Mine” rather than something into which Malik channeled his passion for making music.
The 11-track album opens with “Calamity,” aptly named due to its disjointed nature, which foreshadows what’s to come in the remaining 10 songs. The track sounds more like beat poetry in a smoky bar than an intro to an album, and any message that Malik might be trying to convey is lost in his accent, the jazzy backing melody and childish rhyming disguised as a flow. It somehow feels busy and confused despite the relative simplicity of the track itself.
From there, we get track after track of seemingly the same song. Getting lost in the sound of Malik’s soulful and velvety voice makes for a much more pleasant listening experience than trying to derive meaning from the songs’ simple lyrics or straining to hear what he’s saying through his silky voice and thick accent. It often feels like Zayn flips a switch as he ebbs and flows between heavy, electronic influence in some tracks and super acoustic, basic instrumentation in others.
The songs that constitute the middle of “Nobody is Listening” all blend into each other, as Malik offers little, either vocally or lyrically, to make any track stand out from the others. The only notable aspects of the songs are their altered spellings (see “Connexion” and “Unfuckwitable”). The album’s features, Syd and Devlin, add nothing to their respective appearances, proving to be unmemorable. An otherwise lackluster album takes a welcome turn with “Tightrope,” a track that samples old Bollywood music to pair his already dreamlike voice with a floating, playful melody. It feels much more intimate than any other track and has a much catchier hook — “are you ready, because I’m ready to let go” — than anything else Malik has done. It’s a shame he waits until the 10th track to provide anything remotely playable.
The album’s final song, “River Road,” is a lullaby that places more emphasis on Malik’s sheer vocal richness than on the song’s lyrics or instrumentation. The ending feels incomplete, as if Malik forgot to throw in a track that might have returned him to greatness. Listeners are left unsatisfied, yearning for the wider variation of melodies, instruments and lyrical complexity that Malik has proved himself capable of producing in the past.
Ultimately, “Nobody is Listening” is more a handful of demo tracks than a complete album and gives the impression that Malik threw in the towel before it was complete. Underwhelming and more like “Icarus Falls” than “Mind of Mine,” perhaps Malik had the title of the album in mind before he put it out: if nobody is listening, it must not matter how cohesive the album turns out.