X-Factor sometimes gets it right. I mean for all the rubbish it’s blamed for, there’s still a pretty amazing compilation album you can make from its alumni. In fact there is one in the shops now! But the actual winners don’t often have a great time of it, especially compared to the runners up who have a habit of doing better in the long run (or even the short run).
A possible exception to the rule was the class of 2011, which saw Little Mix become the first group to win the show. A heartwarming victory it was too, a real underdog victory from a group who really blossomed in front of our eyes. First album “DNA” did reasonable business at home, but unexpectedly secured a top 5 position in the USA, so with 1D $-signs in their eyes, the label seems to have invested a lot more on this follow-up album. And it’s really paid off. I really hope they stay the course with this album rather than the half-hearted third and fourth singles they sort-of released earlier this year.
10 Salute – What a statement track to open up. I love the military styling on this one, lots of little hooks in here. Those breath-losing tongue twisters of verses have a great flow to them, but then there’s that killer chorus. OK it’s another female empowerment anthem but I really love it. Those little features, “AtteeeenTION!”, it all meshes together so well.
09 Move – I wasn’t 100% on board for this lead single, it’s a bit of a grower. It’s a Girls Aloud-esque mishmash of all sorts of catchy facets. I hate to use the word funky, is that what people’s parents say? But it really IS. Full of energy and fun without being totally bubblegum.
10 Little me – OMG I’ve been living for this since I started listening to this album. A brilliant and subtle use of classical piece (that I recognised but couldn’t name) “Pavane”, there’s this wonderful downbeat self-help anthem that stands up as a good RnB pop track, but that sample just adds this amazing depth to it, I love it and I’m so happy it’s lined up as the next single.
08 Nothing feels like you – I love the mix of sounds on this album, with some sort of African tribal themes in here. It’s all done quite subtly though, it doesn’t feel like they’re “doing” a particular sound. Their harmonies really work well I think. As a whole it doesn’t quite measure up to the first three tracks as a memorable song but it’s a nice twist on what would have otherwise been a fairly standard pop song.
07 Towers – I never quite got on board with this one, curious as I’ve just twigged this is one of the few tracks they don’t have a co-write credit on. A fairly standard heartbreak midtempo, sort of a less-good soundalike to Leona’s “Better in time”. The rhyming is a bit lumpy and I’m just not really feeling this.
08 Competition – Disappointed this isn’t a Dragonette cover (love that), but this is more comfortable ground for them – sassy RnB pop. It’s really well-done, for a genre that could easily sound like it’s been done to death, this has an awesome bridge-chorus hit. Not re-inventing the wheel but plenty of fun. Love that middle-eight too! Amazing, really ends on a high.
08 These four walls – I think the hype got to me before the song, it’s never quite as good as I think it’s going to be. A total heart-on-sleeve ballad right out of Girls Aloud’s mid-career playbook. Some of the lyrics make me wince a bit in their misery-wallowing (“I tried to smile today, then I realised there’s no point anyway”). That said, it’s still a solid ballad – just not an album highlight for me.
07 About the boy – That intro is annoying, but we quickly move on to some fabulous 80s/90s-themed pop, like it’s Five Star or something. It’s a bit fillery for my money, I like the production on it, but the song itself falls under the high bench-mark set by the album’s first half. Though that operatic middle-eight is really something *ahhhh*
07 Boy – After their X-Factor turning point with En Vogue’s “Don’t let go (love)”, I always wondered how that would manifest itself in their future output, clearly they felt very comfortable in the RnB world, and this track could easily have been a Destiny’s Child cover. That’s hit’n’miss territory in my tastes, so there was a bit of a limit to how much I like it, but still a solid track.
07 Good Enough – That intro makes me want to sing that “Alone” song. To break up the fluff here’s another tear-stained diary of a ballad with some rampant vibrato going on. I hope they felt better after this, sounds very cathartic if it’s all based on personal stuff, but a bit heavy going for a Monday evening.
07 Mr Loverboy – They got over that last track quickly, suddenly we are back to loved-up RnB pop. I just love their voices, without much effort they have so much personality without affected accents. The song itself I’m not mad keen on but it’s all good. Not the best of the pack but still perfectly decent.
09 A different beat – Bookending the military call to arms of the title track opener, this is more of the same but with more of a carnival attitude. A wonderful closing track, definitely the Little Mix you’d want to have as the lasting impression of the album. Gorgeous harmonies and a wonderful party atmosphere.
Great album, I’m so pleased they are doing well and even getting some critical acclaim – something Girls Aloud didn’t get until later on (though in fairness they probably didn’t deserve it until they got it). A strong, confident album from a likeable group who are clearly revelling in music they believe in.
Keepers for the iPod: Salute, Move, Little Me, Nothing feels like you, Competition, These four walls, A different beat