IF IT’S four weeks to go before Christmas, it must be time to unleash the X Factor alumni albums.
One Direction were the first to release their latest stocking filler – or very reason to get up in the morning, if you are one of their legion of teenage fangirls. Now last year’s competition winners Little Mix present their debut offering, and stand a strong chance of making it on to those same girls’ bedroom walls alongside 1D (get me).
Like the all-conquering boy band, the foursome were cannily put together by the show’s producers. According to the girls themselves, the key consideration was that they were all a similar height. Fortunately, they were also pretty evenly matched in vocal stature and even stronger when they harmonised. More importantly for a budding girl group on a TV show, the members were all likeable and relatable to their peer group.
A year on, these girls next door have been overstyled to look like hair dye models on their album cover but DNA is firmly on-message, conceived to build up their target audience of young girls. It starts auspiciously with their recent hit, Wings, an anti-bullying, confidence-boosting number with a strong melodic hook and powerful delivery, and the bludgeoning, booming techno pop title track, lionising a strong man.
Much of the rest of the album celebrates girl power, though in a less proselytising manner than the Spice Girls. Change Your Life reprises the message of Wings to lesser returns, but We Are Who We Are is another catchy, cheerleading esteem-building exercise which resolves to “throw away the books and the magazines, I’m never going to look like a beauty queen… I’m just doing me”.
Stereo Soldier is another bright, bouncy pop number which suits their DayGlo image, as does the infectious b-girl flavour of How Ya Doin’, a mash-up of De La Soul’s Ring Ring Ring, Curiosity Killed The Cat’s Name And Number and their own lyrical kiss-off.
Boyfriend trouble is addressed on Pretend It’s OK, a mid-paced smile-through-the-heartbreak number penned by Girls Aloud writers Xenomania, and Going Nowhere, co-written by Girls Aloud member Nicola Roberts, which berates a waste-of-space boyfriend over Spanish guitar flourish, with bonus cute rap and beatbox breakdown.
Token overwrought ballad Turn Your Face functions as a showcase for Perrie Edwards’ foghorn power vocal but, like both The Spice Girls and Girls Aloud before them, Little Mix are better off when they give it a bit of attitude on the agreeably ballsy Red Planet or let their hair down on Mad House, a fun slice of mildly eccentric pop dubstep, which rounds the album off.
Their fellow X Factor alumnus Olly Murs is probably what passes for a household name in the realm of reality TV graduates. His second album succeeded in outselling his none-too-shabby debut, so the next step appears to be breaking America. To that end, he has toured the US as support to One Direction and will release this third album as his debut over there. So on Right Place, Right Time it’s out with Rizzle Kicks and in with American hip-hop star Flo Rida for the token rapper guest spot on lead single Troublemaker, a catchy but paper-thin disco pop number which fails to find a new way to explore the bad girl theme.
Otherwise, he persists with the cheeky chappie Robbie Williams surrogate role which has paid commercial dividends so far. Army Of Two is the kind of solid but uninspiring stomping pop song Williams could have done with on his new album, painting love not so much as a battlefield, but as a military campaign where “faith is the bullet, proof is the gun, love is all we need”. Like Robbie, Murs is self-aware enough to have fun with these nonsense lyrics.
Loud & Clear sticks closely to the ubiquitous Coldplay formula of downtrodden verse liberated by would-be uplifting, lighter-waving chorus but Murs is not convincing as your dewy-eyed sensitive boyfriend. Instead, he is more suited to the soaring pop R&B style of Dear Darlin, processed soul sound of Personal and throwaway thumbs-up cheeriness of What A Buzz.
On Hey You Beautiful, he heads into risky seduction territory like a floundering fresher at the student union disco, while Head To Toe is an outright cringe, with Murs attempting sexy talk over one of his standard soul pop tracks. Better leave all that bedroom stuff to JLS.
Overall, Right Place, Right Time is a decent enough album on its own shallow, safe terms but, in the pop formula stakes, it is Little Mix who have emerged with the tastier concoction. Now that Girls Aloud qualify as a reunion nostalgia act, there’s a gap in the market for a fresh girl group and these sassy lassies deserve a shot at it.
Little Mix: DNA
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Olly Murs: Right Place, Right Time
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