Arts

Albums: New music from Zayn Malik, Kiwi Jr, Still Corners and Steve Hackett

ZAYN – NOBODY IS LISTENING

WHEN he departed One Direction in 2015, Zayn Malik made it clear he was not doing a Robbie Williams or a Justin Timberlake. Instead, he was hoping to pursue music that was less poppy, more soulful.

However, since releasing a promising debut solo album, his path has been one of sluggish descent. Six years down the line, Malik remains best known for his romance with supermodel Gigi Hadid, now the mother of his child.

On the ironically titled Nobody Is Listening, he strains painfully towards maturity with navel-gazing lyrics about fame and sex – lots of sex. On quality alone, this record seems unlikely to right the ship. It's all a bit lightweight and leaves him in the last chance saloon.

If nobody is listening, it's because he has nothing to say.

Rating: 2/5
Alex Green

KIWI JR – COOLER RETURNS

AT THE start of 2020, Toronto's Kiwi Jr self-released their debut album, the exuberant Football Money, packed with catchy guitar-driven gems.

Since then the world's changed, but the four-piece are back a year on, now on Sub Pop, with another 13 infectious songs showcasing their slacker charms.

"There's a crowd gathering outside our apartment," opener Tyler starts, a non-socially distanced hymn to under-achieving.

Snippets of lyrics stand out – "newspaper headline, homemaker takes it too far", "there's no proof Woodstock happened in the first place" while Undecided Voters takes aim at political apathy.

Maid Marian's Toast, an oblique tale of arson and insurance fraud, is a typical example of their absurdist leanings.

There are echoes of other bands, Pavement, Parquet Courts, Tokyo Police Club and The Velvet Underground, but Kiwi Jr are their own band, scrappy at times, but smart and always thrilling.

Rating: 4/5
Alex Green

STILL CORNERS – THE LAST EXIT

SINCE forming in 2007, songwriter-cum-producer Greg Hughes and vocalist Tessa Murray have slow-burned their way through Cocteau Twins dream pop and Californian indie, never straying too far from the sun-kissed path.

So far they have produced four albums of delicate, evocative music that offer enough left turns to keep things interesting.

Things wear a little thin on The Last Exit, which shoots for dusty desert rock but ends up missing the mark. An album about the myth and folklore of the open road, its noir leanings tend towards pastiche.

Till We Meet Again begins with the sound of wind whispering through an unseen valley and Pink Floyd guitars, before crescendoing with a disappointing plod. Murray's breathy vocals bring a sense of atmosphere but lyrically she fails to evoke the ramshackle towns, endless roads and reddish, shifting sands she seeks.

Right now the thought of the open road feels more inviting than ever but Still Corners fail to capitalise on that.

Rating: 2/5
Alex Green

STEVE HACKETT – UNDER A MEDITERRANEAN SKY

IT HAS been more than a decade since Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis, released an album of acoustic music. Like most alumni of the band, he is relentlessly prolific, working almost constantly on new music and exploring new avenues.

His 26th studio album is inspired by his extensive travels around the region with his wife Jo – travels that now seem like a faint dream.

The guitarist, who turned 70 last year, teases out romance and passion across 11 tracks that span the walled city of Mdina in Malta to the blue of the Croatian coastline. The only non-original piece is a sonata from the Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, a restless piece performed delicately.

On breadth and talent alone, Under A Mediterranean Sky is worth a listen, jumping from flamenco style to Iraqi oud and Andean chango. It's a worthy work from a pioneering guitarist and one that will hopefully offer respite to listeners in lockdown.

Rating: 3/5
Alex Green

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Arts