At some point, any person who has spent their teens as a professional performer starts to wonder if they wasted their good years. Often, that reflection comes later in life, when the world begins to slow down around them. For Zayn Malik, it seems to be happening at the age of 25. Only two solo albums into his post-One Direction career, he’s openly considering and perhaps even regretting the time he lost.
In the midst of Icarus Falls, a too-long album that loses Malik’s charm in all the ideas it tries to get across, is “Good Years.” It’s one of the album’s most compelling tracks, with a hypnotic repetition mixed with Malik’s silky but fragile vocal delivery that makes the sad story he’s telling feel not only authentic but harrowing. He sings of glory and pain: “The voices screaming loud as hell/We don’t care ’bout no one else,” he belts on the first verse. The chorus is even more direct: “I close my eyes and see a crowd of a thousand tears/I pray to God I didn’t waste all my good years.” It’s “Lucky” 2.0: Malik himself wondering, if there’s nothing missing in his life, then why do these tears come at night?
The song could be about One Direction. Malik’s life since his time in the group has been generally lowkey, letting him at least carve out more privacy than before. He even hints at the tension and regrets that have been brewing since he abruptly left the group: “Neither one, one of us, wants to say we’re sorry.” But the song could also just be about the price of fame overall, the struggles of a private young man grappling with his early success and what that will mean for the rest of his life. Either way, Zayn’s inward reflection makes for a standout among nearly 30 new tracks.