Nobody Is Listening
It’s a shame if Zayn Malik actually believes Nobody Is Listening, because they should be. Since departing One Direction in 2015, the comparatively low-profile British Pakistani singer has steadily delivered high-concept pop albums that take risks, bare emotions, and defy expectations. Mind of Mine transformed fluorescent, Frank Ocean-inspired R&B into a hazy after-hours head trip, and the heavily loaded Icarus Falls made intimate love songs into mythic voyages. Here, on his third solo LP, he finally realizes his full potential as a shape-shifting pop auteur, dialling the production way up and fine-tuning his falsetto so that it melts into every bar. Malik’s past projects have drawn comparisons to big-budget R&B/pop stars like Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber, but this album feels against the grain and quietly experimental, as if he’s spent most of lockdown vibing to The 1975 and Daniel Caesar. Whatever he’s been absorbing is working: The songs here are glossy without being obvious, and as a vocalist, he’s never sounded so dazzling and bold. Sonically, he manages to cover some serious ground. The introspective poetry of “Calamity” bounces right into “Better,” a hopeful soul-pop tune that would make John Legend proud. And Malik’s hushed, coy delivery on “When Love’s Around,” a fluttery duet with Syd from The Internet, is quickly outshined by his whinnies and howls on the belt-it-out ballad “Connexion.” But the production—playful and unexpected—is especially fun: “River Road” is stripped back like a barroom acoustic cut, while the megawatt “Sweat” picks right up where Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” left off.