ZAYN’s ‘Nobody Is Listening’: loud in freedom, quiet in impact

Rating:

It has been over two years since we last received an album from ZAYN. Despite his last album, Icarus Falls, not receiving commercial success, it was a solid and underrated album which was surely adored by fans. 2021 marks the five-year anniversary of his split from One Direction, whilst also marking the freedom and privacy ZAYN has now earned in his career. Despite the ongoing pandemic, this seems to be the perfect time for a new ZAYN release.

Nobody Is Listening is a very relaxed piece of work from ZAYN, who was once overworked to the point of severe anxiety and depression. It is incredibly rewarding to listen to his newer projects as he is now free in his expression and art. The album wasn’t heavily publicised like a lot of mainstream albums usually are, so it came as a surprise upon its release. Initially, it took a few listens to filter out the favourites and the skippable songs but, overall, I’d claim this to be another solid piece of work from ZAYN.

The sexual undertones were something we’ve already seen in ZAYN’s music and they definitely suit his voice

Since his initial debut in One Direction, I always thought that ZAYN had a voice suited to R&B, much like Ariana Grande. ZAYN’s contributions to One Direction were always fantastic, speaking as an ex-Directioner, but his voice always seemed to hold more than just a teen-pop sound. Whilst not being a fully-fledged R&B album, Nobody Is Listening is the closest thing to R&B we have ever received from ZAYN.

Neither of the features on this album truly connected with me like I hoped that they would – the songs would be better had they let ZAYN shine entirely on his own. ‘When Love’s Around’, featuring Syd, is one of the two features on the album that were slightly underwhelming. This song, whilst not being downright terrible, was simply average. The beat is quite generic as it sounds like practically anything in the top 40 on UK radio stations. The lyrics were also rather underwhelming, simply repeating “Cause when the love’s around” for a majority of the song.

The second feature on the album is ‘Windowsill’ featuring Devlin. Although it was not as disappointing as the Syd feature, it was still nothing remarkable. ‘Windowsill’ had a lot of potential but felt somewhat odd to listen to. The sexual undertones were something we’ve already seen in ZAYN’s music and they definitely suit his voice. An example of this is ‘PILLOWTALK from his 2016 release Mind of Mine, arguably one of his best songs to date. The Devlin feature, however, throws off the sensual tone of the song, with the beginning being quite soft then the feature coming in rough.

While this is by no means Mariah Carey’s Daydream, this is a solid album from ZAYN

Although the features were underwhelming, there were songs in the 11-track album that stood out in particular. After re-listening to the album, ‘Unfuckwitable’ is a new favourite for many reasons: the sound, lyrics and the tone of the song are all quite lovely to hear. ZAYN beautifully sings about his newfound privacy in a world of intense fame with simple lyrics: “I found a way higher / Me is all I need to be inspired”. Apart from his pop era in One Direction, this is perhaps one of the best showcases of his vocal ability, sporting falsettos and many other delightful tones to the song.

‘Better’ is a song that shines amongst the other songs on this album. Not only does he demonstrate the power and range in his voice, but also the emotion behind his work. Much like ‘Good Days’ by SZA, ‘Better’ is a comforting song that can be listened to quite casually but also deeply. ZAYN sings openly and reflects on one of his past or present relationships in a way that is touching to hear: “It hurts so bad that I didn’t when you asked for more / Your dad probably loves me more than he ever did now”.

In light of some of the harsher reviews by Pitchfork, this is a solid 3-star album which had a lot of potential to be great. While this is by no means Mariah Carey’s Daydream, this is a solid album from ZAYN and the vocals, lyrics and emotion put into Nobody Is Listening are widely appreciated.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING: ‘Better’ and ‘Unfuckwitable’ 

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