Sunday, November 10, 2013

IN REVIEW: Little Mix Offers Up A 'Salute'

On Tuesday, UK X-Factor girl group Little Mix will be dropping their sophomore disc, Salute, in their native land (it will come to US shores in for long waits). After giving the album an early listen, I have to say that this record could (and should) be career-changing for them in the best way possible.

When the group hinted that this album would be more "urban-leaning", they weren't kidding -- but if you were fearing Little Mix's bombastic brand of pop would change, you should no worries. The overall sound featured on Salute mimics a lot of what made their debut DNA so successful. It's heavy on the harmonies and pro-girl statements and the majority of the songs are mid to up-tempo. It's definitely more mature, but in the most natural of senses. Jesy, Perrie, Jade & Leigh-Anne are older, wiser and know what really works for them. In a scene filled with boy bands, Little Mix has truly cemented themselves as the cool older sister group of the teenage generation but have also made a successful transition for the college set and above.

Basically -- if you're not already Team Mixer, it's time to jump on board.

I really respect Little Mix's pro-female anthematic stance. It's a pretty clear parallel to the marketing strategy of the Spice Girls, save for the fact that it's much more savvy and feels less forced. It's also worth noting that the majority of the you-go-girl tracks were co-written by the group themselves. They co-wrote all of the album cuts save for "Boy" (which I'll get to in a second), ballad "Towers" and the reggae-sprinkled "Mr. Loverboy".

The majority of the production for Salute is attributed to the production team TMS, who also brought us "Wings", "DNA" and "Stereo Soldier" (along with James Arthur's "You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You", the latest from the most recent X-Factor alum). I think it's pretty safe to say that TMS very well could be Little Mix's Xenomania if they play their cards correctly. They are responsible for guiding and molding the "Little Mix sound" which now, by album two, has really solidified.

Opener "Salute" stands apart from the rest of the set for its dark, military theme (think a dark, moodier musical cousin to "Stereo Soldier") much akin to Simon Curtis' "Get In Line". It's a call-out to females around the globe and is the first of a number of girl-power-y anthems featured. Single "Move" follows and I've already exclaimed how much I love it.

"Little Me" is the requisite don't-forget-to-remember-you're-beautiful mid-tempo that is much more meaningful and statuesque over "Change Your Life". If it doesn't become a single, I will be terribly disappointed. This song screams powerhouse anthem, not just for teenage girls (and boys) but those in their 20's and beyond, too. "You gotta speak up/You gotta shout out/And know that right here, right now/You can be beautiful, wonderful/Anything you wanna be/Little Me."

Recently signed MNEK co-wrote and produced "Nothing Feels Like You", another favorite for the potential single treatment. It has that reggae-bending, slightly grime-y feel that is distinct to urban Brit bangers (and is so popular in the UK). It was also co-written by Camille (The Saturday's "What About Us"), who also offered up my favorite cut (at least for now) from Salute on the whole: "Boy". The song was described by The Guardian as being an "ode to Destiny's Child" and it shows from second one. My friend John of Pop Music Notes suggested to me that it was a heavy homage to "Bills Bills Bills", which is so on point. Not only to this, it also offers up shades of "Say My Name", "Girl" and "Survivor". The song is short but sweet and begins as a pseudo a capella piece before the chorus builds with snaps. Once the first chorus ends, there's a temporary beat of silence before the bassline kicks in. Basically, it's everything that made DC3 (and 4) so great. The a capella intro may be a bit of a stumbling block toward getting lift off for this as a single but they'd be foolish to pass up the promotional opportunity in this little nostalgic nugget of sound.

The aforementioned TMS also supplies us with a handful of other great album cuts, particularly in the ballsy, keyboard-assisted "Competition" calling out an egotistical (ex-)boyfriend with a killer chorus climax ("You think I'm wrong/When I know I'm right...I like a man with ambition/But when you gonna know/It's time to let go/'Cause I think I'm about to lose my mind"). Handclappy "About The Boy" and snare-drum bombastic "A Different Beat" (the finale track on the regular version of the disc and a purposeful callback to the military feel of "Salute") are full of fast and furious hooks that will help pad out Little Mix's accomplishing live show.

Girl Aloud Nicola Roberts provided two co-writes in "See Me Now" and "They Just Don't Know You", but both were relegated to bonus cuts. Given how strong the bare bones material is, I'm not surprised since these two don't do much to wow me. However, Shaznay Lewis of the former All Saints (who co-wrote criminally under-appreciated "Pure Shores", along with Stooshe's "Black Heart") co-wrote the bonus cut "Stand Down" and it's such a waste this was simply added as an afterthought, if only for the scatting in the bridge alone. 

Overall, while DNA had some supremely fantastic moments (singles "Wings" and "DNA" being main spotlights for obvious reasons; "Stereo Soldier", "Love Drunk" and "Madhouse" being others), Salute is quite good from front to back and in my opinion, this era will be better remembered if it is promoted correctly. It's a truly solid piece of pop and arguably among the best from 2013's output. Long story short: come February, this is a must get.

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