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Back in 2014, Little Mix were due to go on their first ever solo headline tour in the USA - but they cancelled these dates, citing the need to work on their third album, the sequel to 2013's R&B-tinged triumph Salute. When Get Weird emerged in 2015 as a primarily 80s pop-influenced record, the girls explained that they'd been trying to make an R&B/pop record similar to Salute, but were unhappy with what they produced.
Since then they've had colossal success - finishing 2017 as the most-listened to female artists on Spotify UK with their record Glory Days. And yet they've never truly returned to the R&B sound that made Salute such a fantastic record - that is, until now. Describing LM5 as the album they've always wanted to make, it's evident that Little Mix have zoned in on their sound with their fifth album and their first since controversially splitting with Simon Cowell's label Syco. LM5 is not a flawless record - but it demonstrates a spirit of experimentation and boldness that is incredibly refreshing from a group that are popular enough to have produced a much safer record.
The record opens with 'The National Manthem', a vaguely bizarre acapella number with some lovely harmonies - but thankfully things move on swiftly to 'Woman Like Me', the lead single from the record. It takes a couple of listens, but this foray into reggae-R&B/pop is slicked with attitude and features a rollicking guest appearance from That Girl Who Almost Got Hit with a Shoe, Nicki Minaj. 'Woman Like Me' is one of a number of songs on the record where there's been a renewed focus on the girls as a collective rather than a jumble of individual voices. Their blend is so rich and full and is demonstrated to powerful effect on 'Told You So' and 'Strip'. Both of these are also uplifting numbers that you wouldn't be surprised to find on a Little Mix record - but the latter in particular has an unconventional structure similar to their 2013 single 'Move'.
The record has some traditional pop fare on it, but it's executed near-flawlessly. 'Monster in Me' is a melodramatic pop ballad that proves incredibly affecting. 'American Boy's a fun, reggae-flecked number that doesn't bowl you over, but has a nicely loose groove to it. 'The Cure' initially proved rather dull, but their live performance of it with Apple Music last week was better - showcasing the fullness of their harmonies better, and giving a slightly anaemic chorus more kick and passion.
But for the most part, LM5 is a strong, surprising record. 'Love a Girl Right' evokes DJ Khaled's 'Wild Thoughts' with its Spanish instrumentation, and demonstrates a forcefulness that shows a group of women coming into their own. 'Think About Us' eschews the typical ballad structure with more rhythmic verses that make for a more effective payoff in the grand sweep of the chorus. But my two absolute favourite tracks on the record have to be 'Wasabi' and 'More Than Words'.
'Wasabi' was co-written by band member Jade and pop wizard MNEK, and sparks with simmering tension and an irresistible groove - like 'Strip', it's not necessarily a record you would expect after Glory Days, a much more poppy record. 'More Than Words' is a collaboration with Kamille, one of the girls' primary songwriters on the record and an excellent artist in her own right (check 'Body' out on Spotify!). This song feels properly epic - when Kamille belts, it rivals Perrie's power, and this song just has a sense of thudding power equally imbued with a sense of helplessness; a fascinating juxtaposition.
Little Mix haven't quite worked out everything yet, but they seem to be well on their way.