Released a year after DNA, Little Mix’s 2012 debut, Salute finds the group overcoming the curse of the “difficult second album,” returning with a record that expands their sound—and that would help boost their profile worldwide. The title track is a ferocious call to arms, replete with air raid sirens, battle cries, military drums, and an infectious, rallying chorus (“Ladies all across the world/Listen up, we’re looking for recruits…Get your killer heels, sneakers, pumps/Or lace up your boots”). “Salute” finds the members of Little Mix taking the winning formula that fueled their debut album—with its empowerment anthems aimed squarely at the dance floor—and hardening the edges, all with a beat that recalls Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).” As a statement of intent, “Salute” is as unambiguous as it is commanding. Elsewhere on the album, things get more experimental. The lead single, “Move,” owes more to The Neptunes than Little Mix’s girl band predecessors, dispensing with the maximalist production of early hits like “Wings” in favor of sparse humming-and-clicking instrumentation. Despite its odd structure and lack of melody or traditional chorus, “Move” manages to achieve its aim of recruiting listeners to the dance floor—“Hey/Get your back off the wall/Don’t you get comfortable”—seemingly without breaking a sweat. “Boy” is even more pared down, opening on a layered a cappella harmony before introducing a finger snap and eventually bringing in a Timbaland-esque beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Aaliyah deep cut. Meanwhile, Salute’s lyrical themes of female solidarity sit comfortably alongside tales of terminally disappointing men, including “Towers” (“You never brought me flowers/Never held me in my darkest hours”). The mood lifts considerably on the MNEK-produced “Nothing Feels Like You,” a joyous celebration of real-world love that lives up to the fantasy, set to a futuristic Afrobeat beat. They’re all part of an album that goes unexpectedly hard—and that would wind up being saluted by listeners around the globe.

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