Icarus Falls proves Zayn Malik to be a competent musician.
Plenty of musicians kept things short and sweet in 2018. Robyn returned with a nine-song comeback, Tierra Whack gave a 15-minute masterclass in minimalism and Vince Staples took 20 minutes to state his peace. Relying on a compact and cohesive project proved successful for each of these acts, who all ended up on multiple year-end lists. At a time of the year when many people try to catch up on the material they overlooked in the past 12 months, Zayn Malik has release 27 songs for a total of 127 minutes worth of music on Icarus Falls.
Closer to its own name than it realizes, Icarus goes for grandiose in more than length alone. Its first single arrived back in April, approximately a decade ago in 2018-time, and began a months-long rollout towards the album’s release. It features over 20 different songwriting credits and boasts a few impressive guests. Excessive to a fault, the album suffers not necessarily because it’s too long, but because too much of it lacks any sort of innovation or charisma that could set it apart. Malik exists as a disconnected and mysterious in the music scene, and these songs feel just as detached from everything as he does. A track like “There You Are” resembles every song used in a five-second YouTube ad: sweeping, harmless and nowhere near as entertaining as the video you’ve actually queued up.
Sonically, Malik goes the R&B route and rides it for all it’s worth. Despite entering the genre of Usher, Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey, Malik sounds most similar, at least vocally, to the poppier Troye Sivan. The similarity to one of pop’s emerging talents isn’t all a bad thing, at least if you’re not trying to make something as emotional as rhythm and blues. But Malik clearly wants to convey heartbreak, romance, and existentialism, and that’s harder to do when you sound better suited for whisper singing.
That’s not to say Icarus Falls is entirely bad, more just aggressively okay. Malik’s voice remains pleasing on the ears and coupled with the right production, it makes for a few pleasant effects.
The guitar riffs on opener “Let Me” add a bit of sentimental flourish that makes Malik’s request resonate in a genuine manner, while the lilt of his voice on the chorus of “You Wish You Knew” offers one of the most intriguing moments. “Natural” comes close to a decent JT vocal impression, though it’s bogged down by the predictability of the lyrics.
To get the most out of Icarus Falls, the closing sequence provides your best options. “Rainberry” keeps Malik solidly within his range, as opposed to such strained moments as “Common,” and the ‘70s beat adds a nice groove. The muffled percussion coupled with (another) electric guitar on “Insomnia” works with his synthesized voice, giving you a small reprieve before launching into the sonic boom of “No Candle No Light.” Both “Fingers” and “Too Much” let the album float gently back to Earth, the latter delivering the pure Timbaland everyone knows and loves.
Icarus Falls proves Zayn Malik to be a competent musician. As for a compelling one, it fails to take the necessary risks its title suggests. But you can’t blame Malik for reaching; without the fall, Icarus wouldn’t have a story to tell at all.