Zayn has returned to music with his anticipated fourth studio album, ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS, just over three years following the release of his last album, Nobody is Listening. Zayn, notorious for being quiet on social media and straying from the public eye, has been more involved than ever before with the promo of this new album. Appearing on podcasts and slowly reintegrating himself into the public eye, it’s been a long time coming for fans of the former One Direction member. 

ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS is already made with a different mindset, as Zayn wrote most of the music in rural Pennsylvania and recorded the album around the US in Tennessee and Georgia. Upon first listen, it’s more of the same sound compared to Zayn’s previous releases, with his signature sultry, slick vocals Zayn is known for. He does sound like he has some more folk/country influence, which is likely courtesy of Dave Cobb, a producer on the project. Cobb has previously worked with many country and folk artists such as Chris Stapelton and Brandi Carlile, and his influence is audible on this new release.  

The album opens with the track Dreamin, which initially starts slow with just Zayn and an acoustic sound, but picks up quickly. Zayn sings “I’ve been dreamin’, feelin’ this way, I’ve been needing something else, I know what it is when I see it. Can’t hold on anymore to this feelin'” which seemingly indicates his feelings to move on from someone or something. Dreamin itself yearns for something more – a funky guitar solo that follows the first chorus, or just an added element of depth. But it’s a soft opener that shows a slightly different side to Zayn.

In Alienated, Zayn opens up about feeling, well, alienated. This is probably one of his most honest and vulnerable tracks on the album, really opening up about feeling isolated and different, as well as admitting to some of his faults, whilst acknowledging where he has fallen short in life and his relationships. “Can you let me be intoxicated on my own? Do I need to answer or right my wrongs? Am I home if I don’t know this place? And I’ve been feeling alienated, on my spaceship alone, say goodbye to the past, leave it all with a laugh. Cause you always was right all along,” he sings.

Similar to Alienated, Zayn bares his feelings in full force in How it Feels. He sings about heartbreak and his shortcomings in his previous relationships singing, “Till I let go of this moment, something holdin’ me to this place, I’ve been breakin’, always fakin’, I’m just lyin’ to your face. And I can’t tell you how it feels”. In this track you can really hear a bit of the country twang and influence. While Alienated might have been Zayn’s chosen single for the album, the sound of How it Feels makes this stand out as one of his stronger tracks.

While emotionally complex, the album isn’t all doom and gloom. Zayn dabbles back in his pop roots in tracks Stardust and Something in the Water. While both of these tracks are more fun, they don’t seem to align with the rest of the album. I enjoyed the tracks but it just didn’t work with the flow of the album. 

While fans will be happy to see Zayn’s return to music, this album felt like an extended cut of his previous works. His albums have all had a very similar sound, and it feels as if Zayn rarely dabbles in new experimental music. However, ROOM UNDER THE STAIRS is an incredibly emotionally vulnerable album, and Zayn’s honesty can only be commended as admirable by listeners, but for this release, I was just hoping for something new and different.


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