Taking its title from their fans’ shorthand for the unnamed fifth album, LM5 has been a long time coming from Little Mix. As a group who excel when it comes to producing singles, LM5 comprises of plenty of great songs, but lacks that musical thread to tie all the tracks together. You could argue that this demonstrates the band’s flexibility, but on an album that showcases three female rap features alongside writing credits from Ed Sheeran and Jess Glynne, the set lacks a stylistic coherence. At a lengthly fourteen songs, there is an overwhelming sense that, had inoffensive power ballads such as ‘Monster in Me’ and ‘The Cure’ been cut, the overall quality would have drastically improved.
The inconsistent musicality of LM5 is particularly frustrating because thematically, the band’s message is the clearest it has ever been. Female empowerment is at the heart of the album; from the opening, acapella harmonies of ‘The National Manthem’ proclaiming, “She is a bad bitch made up of magic,” we see a fun, flirty feminism encompassing self-love and sisterhood. All three singles (‘Woman Like Me’, ‘Joan of Arc’, ‘Strip’) have brought this mix of sex appeal and self-ownership to the forefront, yet it is the short and sweet ‘Wasabi’ which really packs a punch to the patriarchy. Playing with the food fetish dynamic championed by artists such as Katy Perry, ‘Wasabi’ flips the switch on traditional desire, giving the healthy message that you can’t please everyone on the album’s standout track.
Whilst messages of female empowerment are heard throughout the album, it does get a little skewed along the way. It took me many, many listens to actually enjoy the second single, ‘Joan of Arc’, due to the over-produced, trap sound and distracting faux-American accents. Musically it’s still not my favourite, yet the repeated male voice asking “You on that feminist tip?” and the replying cry of “Hell yeah, I am!” sweeten the deal. Hearing the word ‘feminist’ in a song is virtually unheard of from a pop group, let alone an X-Factor alumni girl band who are regularly played by radios and nightclubs alike, making it a radical act in itself.
At the opposite end of the musical spectrum, we have ‘Told You So’: a saccharine serenade to a female friend going through a breakup. With an acoustic guitar underpinning that evokes memories of Fergie’s (much better) ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and a nice enough sentiment, the track is let down by a faux-sincerity in the chorus that is hard to hear without prompting an eye roll. Crooning the words, “Girl just come round mine tonight / I’ve got wine and makeup wipes” and promising to “put the kettle on”, the lyrics feel like a bot-generated attempt to insert ‘relatable’ female buzzwords over the melody, losing all sense of actual personality in the process.
It’s hard to write about LM5 without giving the impression that I think the songs are not good, which in the case of all but a couple, couldn’t be further from the case. I would love to give seven or eight of these tracks the attention they fully deserve, but the lack of a thread tying them together makes this virtually impossible in a short review. ‘Love a Girl Right’ intelligently pairs fierce loyalty with a tongue-in-cheek ‘Thong Song’ sample. ‘More Than Words’ shows that Little Mix can excel on slower tracks too, with a Timbaland-produced R&B flow and powerhouse, Marina and the Diamonds-esque vocals.
Thematically, LM5 is tight and clean, with a clear message about loving yourself and supporting your friends pervading across all fourteen tracks; yet when it comes to sound, the endless jumps from trap beats to spoken word to acoustic guitar ballads are undeniably jarring. However, the tracks are slick and well sung, with some absolute corkers thrown in; a sound for the Spotify generation, you’ll gain no more from sharing the songs amongst your playlists than listening to them in order and whilst that makes me feel old, it doesn’t necessarily mean the album is bad.
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