#CrazyStupidAlbum: Little Mix – “Get Weird”

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From a quick glance at what occupies the top end of the charts these days – even the recently revealed track list for the latest Now compilation reveals a record 10+ count of ‘featuring’ tracks, most of which are faceless, generic dance and EDM fusing random DJs with random session vocalists – pure, out and out, multifaceted pop is all but on the back bench again, just as it was 10 years ago.

Any prospective newcomers are almost just as faceless. Alien Uncovered (officially the worst name for a girl group ever. And Thunderbugs were bad), who just last weekend were voted off the first live shows of X Factor, were themselves just six very unlikeable, scraggy and generic dancers come rappers. What was crucially forgotten was that having a bit of feistiness to your output is OK as long as you’re approachable.

Being approachable but feisty is something Little Mix have got down to a fine art in the four years they’ve been around thus far. Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Ann Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall (one of the best girl group members ever, FYI), themselves winners of the aforementioned ITV talent show – and so far still the only group in its history to win – they returned to its stage last weekend to perform their new single and showed to the recently ejected Uncovereds (as we are calling them only for the purposes of this blog/review) and all else concerned how it should be done.

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And, just as their predecessors in great girly reality TV born pop, Girls Aloud, found themselves as the last pop game in town on the release of their third album, the still glorious ‘Chemistry’ in 2005, so too, do Little Mix find themselves in 2015 with the hotly anticipated arrival of their third album ‘Get Weird’. All in their team are fully aware of this, and after two album campaigns where they were hugely successful but rather forgotten about under an avalanche of contemporaries – namely JLS, The Wanted, One Direction and The Saturdays, all of whom have now either broken up or are on a hiatus – the mission of this album is to announce their arrival into the big leagues.

It’s already started swimmingly, in the shape of this album’s first release and opening track ‘Black Magic’. Co-written by the wonderfully talented Ed Drewett (Olly Murs, The Wanted), it’s a pocket rocket, big chorused, shiny and melodic singalong pop banger with more than a hint of 80s era Whitney Houston and Cyndi Lauper. It was glorious to see this rightfully spend three weeks at the top of the UK charts this summer, and is without question the best pop single released this year. It’s definitely become a career song for them now, and you would perhaps wonder if it’d be hard to live up to.

However, its follow up and current single ‘Love Me Like You’ is equally winning on the singalong front, and wonderfully harmonised against a swaying, 50s high school sweetheart pop backdrop that Olivia Newton-John would be proud of. Both these songs are effortlessly cute and hard to resist but showcase a graceful maturity from their first two albums – showing their development but not at the loss of what made them such a winning prospect in the first place.

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Further down the album is packed chock-a-block with huge hits in waiting – among them, the sassy hip hop flavoured kiss off of ‘Hair’, the Katrina and the Waves aping ‘stuff the haters’ anthem ‘Weird People’, and the quirky, drum heavy neo-soul of ‘Grown’ and ‘A.D.I.D.A.S’. Props also have to be given to ‘OMG’, a minimalistic spike of electropop that sounds like the great lost collaboration between them and Charli XcX we’ll never hear.

The only real mis-step that the album manages to make is on ‘Secret Love Song’, a laboured duet with general Autobahn area Jason Derulo that shouldn’t have got past the cutting room floor. But considering that’s one misstep on a 12 track pop album in this day and age is an awesome achievement, and one that should rightly be applauded. In all the other eleven tracks on this album their personality and bounciness explodes like one of those abstract paint splattered canvases in Italian art galleries.

Now coming of age, we can safely say the girls have made their best album to date with ‘Get Weird’. And, perhaps most importantly, as pop experiences a commercial drought like never before, we need a group like them more than ever to fly its flag proudly – hopefully, their fans will agree too.

5/5

STREAM THESE: ‘Black Magic’, ‘Weird People’, ‘Hair’, ‘Grown’

‘Get Weird’ is out now via SyCo. The girls head out on the road for the ‘Get Weird’ arena tour in the UK and Ireland in spring next year. www.little-mix.com

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#CrazyStupidTV: Simply Nigella (BBC Two)

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Few sights are as comforting for me with the TV schedules and bookstore shelves as that of seeing a new series and book from my favourite TV cook person Nigella Lawson on them. My love affair with all things Nigella started when I was a teenager and her first series, ‘Nigella Bites’ aired on Channel 4. Here finally, I thought, was a TV foodie with a genuine, poetic love of food, offering calming but casual advice, who wasn’t barking at you like Gordon Ramsey, or tutting at you like a particularly displeased mother in law like Delia Smith.

It’s been a love affair that’s continued on throughout the last 15 years. Her ‘How to Eat’ and ‘Nigella Express’ books were frequently used tomes of mine during my uni days for brushing up meals after long days in lectures and seminars, and made cooking become a really enjoyable past time of mine rather than a chore. In fact, when my mum brought me up some home cooked ham off the bone after a weekend where I couldn’t make it back for a family member’s birthday party, I promptly made the southern style eggs that she’d once made to accompany her own gammon in Coca-Cola and immediately thought of the world as a better place.

Of course, as most people will know the focus hasn’t necessarily been on Nigella’s kitchen based antics in the last few years, which I won’t go into here because it’s A) unnecessary and B) not why I’m writing this blog. ‘Simply Nigella’, the name of both her newest book and series, lives up to its title. Although some of the feted trademarks of her previous TV shows appear to have vanished somewhat – faceplanting a chocolate cake at 3am whilst the end credits roll, for instance – we find her rediscovering a love of food and cooking after some time away from public view, through simple ingredients and simple methods to make culinary bliss.

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So much was made on Twitter of the fact her first recipe of the first episode was for avocado on toast. Even she admitted on screen it was hardly a recipe, but it’s the simplicity and easiness of it all that makes it appealing. A segway into a recipe for Thai noodles with cinammon and prawns also shedded light on what had bought her back to a love of cooking – namely, time spent visiting Thailand as she skipped nostalgically through a clutch of Polaroids. Though balking at a photo of her with an untamed, backpackers mane, she wittily observes that ‘happiness trumps good hair’.

This feeling of rediscovery and joy via the kitchen seeped throughout the first episode, in particular on her recipes for sticky lamb ribs and a gluten-free apricot and rosewater cake. Whilst I’m not the world’s greatest fan of fruit based cakes, even I had to admit it looked appealing, if not for her wonderfully alliterative reasoning behind why rosewater was such an essential part of her cake: ‘One drop is full of exotic promise. Too much, and it’s like your great aunt’s bubble bath.’

Future episodes to come this series promise more delights – among them, a new chocolate cake which is sure to be up there with her Cloud Cake from ‘Bites’ or her infamous ‘Girdlebuster Pie’ from her Christmas shows, as well as a DIY pork burger that would put most hog roast caterers to shame. Like a comfy pair of slippers or a warming mug of cocoa when you come in from a blustery, dark commute home, slipping back simply and easily into Nigella’s world has made our autumn evening’s viewing all that bit sweeter.

‘Simply Nigella’ continues at 8:30pm on Monday nights on BBC Two. The first episode is available to watch back now for UK viewers on BBC iPlayer. The accompanying book for the series is published by Chatto and Windus. www.nigella.com Twitter: @Nigella_Lawson