Zayn’s third album, Nobody is Listening, dropped today, January 15, 2021.
A surprising start to the album with Stormzy- and Ed Sheeran-esque talk-rapping. Once you get past the fact that Zayn is SPEAKING (we rarely hear his speaking voice anymore since he does so little press), you realize the lyrics are a poem about looking back on old times and the performance anxiety, trust issues, and ups and downs that have come with his fame. It ends with wistful singing of the album title, “Nobody is listenin’ to me,” and it feels like Zayn is still struggling with his mental health.
The lead single off the album, “Better” starts out with similar tones to “Calamity,” but leads us out of rap and into RnB. Assuming this song is about Gigi Hadid (and the line “Your dad probably loves me more than he ever did now” is about Mohamed Hadid), this sweet and slow song is a straight-up love proclamation. It sounds like the relationship went through a tumultuous period but Zayn believes it’s worth continuing. Thank goodness, since they share a daughter now.
Slowing down things even more and featuring Zayn’s stunning falsetto, these lyrics also touch on the tough times in a relationship. Unlike “Better,” though, it sounds like he’s thinking of an older relationship, with lines like, “The way you snuck out of your parents’ / Just you and me up on the roof,” and, “Damn, I really thought that we would make it.” It’s also the first song on the album with an EXPLICIT label.
The second single off the album (although now I think “Outside” would’ve been a better choice), this is the first track on the album with blatant sexual themes. I think this song is a little flat and really lacks any kind of build-up. I also don’t think the title required the alternate spelling — we get it, Zayn starts with a Z.
5. When Love’s Around feat. Syd
This song is a bit of a surprise, as it starts with a little slow piano but then evolves into a much funkier, upbeat sound. Syd kicks off the first verse, then their voices combine in the chorus. When Zayn comes in for verse two, his voice is equally as beautiful as Syd’s — they don’t juxtapose each other, they complement. However, the end gets repetitive.
Extremely raw-sounding vocals that really showcase Zayn’s range in what must be another ode to Gigi (I would write songs about her all day, too, if I were him). My favorite line — due more to the way he sings it than the actual lyrics — is, “Feels just likе a drug / Really fuck me up.” However, this song also gives me NSYNC “Digital Get Down” vibes. “A digital… but physical… connexion.” I can’t go there.
I was praying this song would be “TiO” 2.0, but it’s still too slowed-down. Please give me a banger before we get to track 11, Zayn. “Sweat” is another super sexual one but without being explicit, just steamy windows and clothes ripped off. Well, maybe “dripping down your body like gold” could be considered explicit… Reminded me a bit of Liam Payne.
I think these lyrics touch back on what Zayn was talking about in “Calamity.” Fake friends, fake love, and preferring to just be on his own. Zayn’s always come across as a quiet, reclusive, artistic type (I still remember him going home and spray painting his walls in the 1D documentary). Now it sounds like he knows his own worth, which is beautiful character development. “They all said I wouldn’t do shit / Now they all about my new shit.” *claps*
9. Windowsill feat. Devlin
Starts right out with an F-bomb and the chorus gives me major Post Malone feels. This might be the closest we get to a banger on this album, and I love having a true rap verse with Devlin. Best lyric: “And there ain’t no salvation, this girl could walk through Hell / And I’m sure she’d tempt Satan if she ain’t the devil herself”
Enter some guitars! And some Ariana Grande-style mumbling. “Tightrope” is another sweet love song that talks about how love and life are a careful balancing act. The end of the song pays homage to Indian singer Mohammed Rafi’s song “Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho” from the ’60s.
11. River Road
More guitar! “Liver” is a really startling word to have in a song. But besides that, the final song on the album looks toward the future. It sounds like Zayn is wondering about what his legacy will be and also that he has to let go of some of his control over that. “What will I choose to leave behind me? / Where will I go?” With some Beatles energy, I will be honest, this song probably would be at home on a Harry Styles album. This is a really strong closing track.
Overall impressions: I’m glad this is a more digestible number of tracks (Icarus Falls was just too long for me), but it still doesn’t compare to Mind of Mine. Many songs have a similar tempo and can blur together if you’re not paying attention. The standouts to me are “Outside,” “Unfuckwitable,” and “River Road.” However, all the lyrics are beautiful and Zayn’s voice is, of course, always beautiful. After the first listen through, I’d give Nobody Is Listening a strong B — and I do think people are going to be listening.