There are many things about 2020 that we’ll all be quick to try and forget about once it passes. But one positive thing is that for the first time in a very long while, where pop music is concerned, it has caused everyone involved to pull their socks up a little.
In short, this year has seen something of a bumper harvest of shiny pop bangers to keep us dancing in the face of adversity, from Dua Lipa to Jessie Ware. And all this with new albums from Steps and Sophie Ellis-Bextor still to come in the next few weeks. Quite simply, pop is once again not boring us and getting to the chorus.
So it seems quite appropriate then, that two reliable exponents of pop bangers released new albums last week. Little Mix’s sixth studio album Confetti arrived with perhaps slightly less fanfare than would otherwise be expected given the circumstances.
Their BBC One talent show Little Mix – The Search, which was a large part of their promo efforts, reached its climax last weekend, after being beset by weeks of COVID halting production delays, and strong critical praise but lack of viewers who couldn’t be tempted away from a repeat of The Chase on the other side. And let’s not even touch on the current absence of one of their number for promo duties, which – despite reassurances from their spokeys – is causing all sorts of unrest amongst fans online.
And yes, for an album that is following 2018’s good if slightly patchy LM5 effort, this isn’t ideal. But taking those things to one side, it starts strongly enough. Our former #SongoftheWeek, ‘Break Up Song‘, the first single, is still a delightfully big chorused and Technicolor bright bop nine months on.
And since its premiere a couple of weeks ago, current single ‘Sweet Melody’, in which Jade Thirlwall in particular delivers her sassiest vocals and lyrics yet (‘He was in a band, he wrote songs about me / I didn’t care for the words but the melody was sweet’), is easily, without wishing to damn with faint praise, one of the best things they’ve done as a group since their galactico ‘Shout Out To My Ex’ period four years ago.
‘Not A Pop Song’ is a wonderfully weird but addictive wonky pop belter, with it’s rallying war-cry lyric of ‘I don’t do what Simon says’ having baited red top gossip pages everywhere since it’s release as an Instant Grat track, as they’ve more or less hinted it’s a slight to their old boss Simon Cowell, whom they sacked on the eve of the release of their last album due to creative differences.
But then at some point, just after the equally mighty triumvirate of the rather good title track, ‘Happiness’ (believed to be being remixed for the fourth single with Craig David on guest vocals) and the feisty ‘Gloves Up’, there is a definite dip in quality. Now admittedly, it is not many pop bands – let alone a girl group – who get to their sixth studio album.
The last girl group to get anywhere near to that level with the comparable amount of success were Girls Aloud – themselves the end result of a TV talent show – with their 2008 chart slaying fifth album, Out of Control. That album came just as, low on energy and tolerance of one another, they were edging towards a hiatus that eventually lasted three years before their (brief) 2012 reunion.
Songs towards the end of this new album like ‘Rendezvous’ and ‘If You Want My Love’ seem to pass through your head almost non-eventfully, and are very much in ‘filler’ territory. You realise that the singles (and ones to come) at the top half of Confetti are probably the best thing on it and are the ones to keep skipping back to.
In short, it’s not the absolute best album the Little Mix ladies have done – that honour, we feel, is still held by their 2015 album Get Weird – and them on an off day is still preferable to any lesser pretenders at their worst. But if Confetti ends up being their last release for a few years, we wouldn’t be entirely surprised.
Meanwhile, Kylie Minogue has equally got much to live up to. The pop icon now enters her fifth decade in music, having more or less been a constant fixture since 1988. Coming off the back of not one, but two chart topping albums – 2018’s Golden and last year’s Step Back In Time greatest hits package – may be daunting.
But just as 20 years ago, when she delivered her Light Years album and mega-pop comeback with ‘Spinning Around‘ at precisely the right moment, she delivers Disco and then some on her fourteenth studio album, at a time when many are itching to dance when the dancefloors are laying silent. The difference being that, perhaps no longer needing to worry about scoring chart topping hits with the velocity she did in her 80s or early 00s peaks, she has released by far the most effortless album of her career.
Lead single ‘Magic’ is a fantastic starting point on an album, which, comparably speaking, is the most encapsulated love letter to dancing and clubs since Madonna’s seminal Confessions on a Dancefloor in 2005. The melody, the chorus, the beat, everything feels and sounds of ease to the touch. In the best possible way, it’s an album where you almost instinctively know what’s coming with each track.
Songs like ‘Real Groove’, ‘Supernova’ and ‘Last Chance’ are a 120 BPM colossus that come across as the musical equivalent of Bianca Jagger with a cocktail in hand at Studio 54. It glides effortlessly to its conclusion on a proper ‘forget him love, let’s go out’ Gloria Gaynor referencing groover in ‘Celebrate You’, and though it is one of her shortest albums (coming in at just over 40 minutes), Disco holds up incredibly well to repeat plays and boogieing around our bedroom. In short, it’s one of Kylie’s most accurately realised albums to date. And where the battle to be queen of the lockdown home discotheques is concerned, she has emerged triumphant.
STREAM THESE: ‘Break Up Song’, ‘Not A Pop Song’, ‘Confetti’, ‘Gloves Up’ (Little Mix), ‘Last Chance’, ‘Magic’, ‘Real Groove’, ‘Celebrate You’, ‘Supernova’ (Kylie Minogue).
RATING: 3/5 (Little Mix), 5/5 (Kylie Minogue)
‘Confetti’ and ‘Disco’ are both available to stream and download now, via RCA/Sony Music and BMG respectively. Twitter: @LittleMix / @kylieminogue
Have you heard these albums? What do you think? Do you agree with our review? Leave your comments below or message us on Instagram using the hashtag #CrazyStupidAlbum.