Albums of the week: From Bruno Mars to Beans On Toast
Bruno Mars is back with 24K Magic, Little Mix share Glory Days and Beans On Toast put A Spanner In The Works. We round up this week’s best releases.
LITTLE MIX — GLORY DAYS
Despite claims that Little Mix’s smash single, Shout Out To My Ex, has some similarities to GRL’s Ugly Heart, it’s still arguably the sassiest pop tune of the year, and I defy you not to watch the video on repeat. It’s all candy floss colours, lippy lyrics and brilliant cheek from a girl band that might have started out by winning the X Factor, but have since become something far more powerful and talented than that would suggest. Glory Days is chocker with R&B spliced pop, although on Oops they dabble in funk, on FU it’s Sixties soul and You Gotta Not is laced with carnival beats. They’re not afraid to experiment, pitching from ballads to rap. It’s fun, fierce, silly at times (Power is particularly all over the place, but addictive nonetheless) and at others it’s tackling tough topics, from who has control in relationships to cheating. Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock’s voices aren’t always massively distinct, but put Glory Days on before a night out and you’re guaranteed the absolute best time.
BRUNO MARS — 24K MAGIC
It’s all Uptown Funk for Bruno Mars as he boldly swaggers back into the charts with his third studio album, 24K Magic. The 31-year-old Hawaiian singer-songwriter ups the ante — and the tempo — with nine playfully groovy tracks harking back to the Eighties and early Nineties, including on Chunky, Perm and the title tune. Drawing inspiration from R&B acts of that era he grew up with, particularly Babyface (who he worked with on Too Good To Say Goodbye), Boyz II Men, New Edition and Jodeci, Mars shows his romantic side, as he croons about seducing dates on Versace On The Floor, Straight Up & Down and Calling All My Lovelies. Too Good To Say Goodbye is a slow jam that will satisfy fans of his ballads, such as When I Was Your Man, Just The Way You Are and Rest Of My Life. It may have been a four-year wait since 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox, but Mars, fast establishing himself as the prince of funk, proves he still has the Midas touch.
BALTIC FLEET — THE DEAR ONE
If Stranger Things and John Carpenter’s recent gigs have rekindled (or sparked) your interest in retro electronic music, The Baltic Fleet should be your next port of call. The brainchild of Warrington musician Paul Fleming, Baltic Fleet’s third album builds sweeping soundscapes of synth and beats that take you back to the experimental days of the Seventies and Eighties — but this isn’t just nostalgic noodling. Influenced by Eno, Kraftwerk, Neu! and The Radiophonic Workshop, the songs are atmospheric, instrumental anthems built around some muscular tunes. Sheriff Full Of Blessings wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Gold Panda’s ambient offerings, while tracks like Tuns and Royving pound with a more industrial urgency. Elsewhere, Nineties dance grooves infiltrate and bring a euphoric element to epic songs like Swallow Falls. Electro pop at its very finest.
BEANS ON TOAST — A SPANNER IN THE WORKS
If you thought the protest song was a dying art, Beans On Toast, aka Jay McAllister, is here to prove otherwise. The singer-songwriter’s eighth album consists of 13 heartfelt songs about the state of the world. Album opener 2016 takes in the deaths of Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali as well as Brexit, terrorism and the rise of Trump. After that, he veers away from his familiar guitar strumming towards a beats and beeps approach. Amid the synths and samples, Jay holds forth on the environment, politicians, family and the fallout of socio-economic upheaval. The Drum Kit combines a Madness-style skank with a serious lament about the closure of music venues, while Money For War is a gospel sing-along about the skewed priorities of politicians. It’s not always subtle, but Beans On Toast makes his point with both humour and humility.
JUSTICE — WOMAN
Hirsute, leather-jacketed duo Gaspard Auge and Xavier de Rosnay, otherwise known as French electro group Justice, are back with their third record, Woman. Alakazam! sputters like an arcade game that refuses to co-operate, but that you’re desperate to master, Safe And Sound swoops and arcs melodically, jangling with a disco beat while Heavy Metal is anything but, in fact, it’s got a strangely skewed Addams Family vibe going on. Justice require time, reflection and a quirky ear, but put the effort in and it’s hard not feel as though Woman would be best enjoyed while grooving nonchalantly on an illuminated dancefloor, a glitter ball sparkling above.