Zayn Malik turned 28 this week, but it's his fans who are getting a present.
The former One Direction singer — who now goes simply by Zayn — dropped his third album, "Nobody Is Listening," Friday. It comes a little more than two years after his last release, "Icarus Falls."
The 11 tracks on Malik's latest album blur the lines between pop and R&B, with a decidedly stripped-down feel. The opening track, "Calamity," for example, is essentially strictly vocals.
If you're a longtime fan, there's going to be a bit of an adjustment here. The lyrics in many cases are more raw than you're used to and you'll hear an f-bomb or two. Malik is coming into his own as an artist. Less sanitized, more real.
Earlier this week, Malik tweeted out a phone number fans could call to hear portions of the new album, which he's described as his "most personal project to date." It's the latest example of artists getting creative to promote their new works during the coronavirus pandemic that's stifled traditional album rollouts.
Fans seem to have liked what they heard. "Zayn Malik creates nothing but masterpieces," one wrote on Twitter. "(N)obody listening is so good thanks for never disappointing me and giving us such a great album," another one said.
Indeed, the album does not disappoint, but there are songs that are better than others. USA TODAY listened to all the tracks on the new album and ranked them from OK to best.
No. 11: 'Better'
Sure, it's the lead single but it's a little too cheesy/obvious.
Sample lyrics: "Hope I only leave good vibes on your living room floor // It hurt so bad that I didn’t when you asked for more // Your dad probably loves me more than he ever did now // Yeah we finally knocked down."
No. 10: 'When Love's Around'
This one has potential to be a track at dance clubs, although something — not sure what — seems missing.
Sample lyrics: "Ever been in love? // Ever really love someone? // People tend to rush // People tend to run to love // Only takes one // To show you what it means to love, love."
No. 9: 'Vibes'
A good pop beat here, but the music drowns out the vocals at points.
Sample lyrics: "Don’t keep me waiting // I’ve been waiting all night to get closer And you already know I got it for ya // You know the vibes, know the vibes // Put it on ya."
No. 8: 'Calamity'
Basically spoken words, but a real look inside Malik's head.
Sample lyrics: "Nostalgia // What a funny feeling // I feel depleted // From feelings I've been revealing."
No. 7: 'Sweat'
Another one that could easily make it onto radio, but it seems a bit ... mechanical.
Sample lyrics: "Staying out for ya // Day and night for ya // We been losing track of time // Reaching higher highs // Only one thing on my mind."
No. 6: 'River Road'
A very mellow tune with a heavy message.
Sample lyrics: "We don't divide each other // Stand on your own // Be a pillar // Lay on my pillow."
No. 5: 'Tightrope'
We've all been on the tightrope, trying to please others. Malik puts it out there in this jam.
Sample lyrics: "Why’s it gotta feel like I'm walking a tightrope // Why you wanna see how far I fall // ‘Cause I’m already up here and I got my eyes closed // And I ain't ever fell from a love this tall."
No. 4: 'Windowsill'
The track's name seems innocent, but ... yeah ... no. Definitely don't play this one with your kids in the room.
Sample lyrics: "Are you done yet // 'Cause I'm ready // Are you waiting for the right time? // Call me back"
No. 3: 'Unf---witable'
Whoops, one of those f-bombs we mentioned. Malik's message of seeing through who's real and who's fake is extremely relatable, though. Especially during COVID-19, we've found out who our real friends are.
Sample lyrics: "I’m unf---witable // In a world of my own // That’s why my shoulder’s so cold // I’m unf---witable."
No. 2: 'Connections'
This one has a bit of a way-back vibe. Clean and simple.
Sample lyrics: "Funny when you come to mind // That’s when you hit me up // And that’s when we feel a little closer // Just when I started thinking."
No. 1: 'Outside'
This is easily the most radio-ready track. It screams Top 40.
Sample lyrics: "Two wrongs make no right // When it’s left at least we tried // I’ll be back tonight // I’ll let you decide."
Contributing: Sara M. Moniuszko, USA TODAY
Follow Gary Dinges on Twitter @gdinges