In the seven years since Little Mix’s arrival in 2011, the group had established itself as the UK pop scene’s unproblematic faves, thanks to four hit albums and a spotless public image: There had been no public bustups, no scandals, and no “artistic differences.” But less than a week before the release of LM5, the group’s fifth album, the apple cart was momentarily overturned, thanks to the news that they had parted ways with Simon Cowell’s Syco label, owing to disagreements over creative control. Yet by then, the more irritating thorn in Little Mix’s pop crown was the group members’ inability to thoroughly break America, where they’d failed to replicate the mammoth success of their first two albums. LM5 appears precision-engineered to change the narrative. Ed Sheeran co-wrote the lead single, “Woman Like Me,” which sees the group retool its trademark female-empowerment messaging with a reggaetón-tinged slice of dance pop, featuring an imperious guest verse from Nicki Minaj. They’re not the only big talents brought in to help out here: Legendary producer Timbaland steps up with “More than Words,” a thumping synth-led ballad, while Missy Elliott protégée Sharaya J features on the minimal, half-rapped “Strip,” an ode to body positivity (“If you got little boobs, love it/If you got a big ass, grab it”). Meanwhile, “Love a Girl Right” is a surprisingly successful reimagining of Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” powered by an unlikely combination of flamenco beats and electric guitars. If there are any doubts that the album has been assembled with one eye across the Atlantic, the trip-hop inflected “American Boy” (“And I met him back when I was out in California”) should silence them. And if any British fans felt led astray by Little Mix’s attempt to conquer the States, they could at least take comfort from the MNEK-penned guitar ballad “Told You So”, in which the group comfort a heartbroken friend with a very British reassurance: “We can put the kettle on.” Some things are beyond reinvention.