Saturday, November 30, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Raw Spice (Hendon)



With a distinctly bar-type vibe to the place and Las Vegas-level brash lighting, Raw Spice was different from any other Indian restaurant I’d been to before. Thanks to a menu that offered a lot of range as well as my mate's Tastecard, I ate extremely well, and huge quantities (with enough to take home for the family), for just £12 covering tip! Glorious!

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Between us, for mains, we ordered a lamb dish, a chicken dish, and a prawn dish. We also had two portions of rice (which as you can see in the photo, is a pretty healthy portion), two starters and some naan bread to share. They were all brilliant, and thanks to the kitchen cooking all the meat dishes on mild, they were tangy without causing my nose to run and eyes to water, which is all too common an occurrence when I visit Indian restaurants, unfortunately.

 photo IMG00083-20131128-1804_zps58f6a859.jpgThe best dish was the prawn one, which graciously actually had prawns in them (I went to another Indian restaurant the following day and there were about three prawns in total in the plate I’d ordered; disappointing to say the least). The other two meat dishes didn't skimp on actual meat either, which was refreshing, because usually in restaurants they'll excel at a couple of dishes but sell you short on another. No such case here. The “chicken lollipops” which we had as one of our starters weren't, as I’d feared, undercooked or over-seasoned, but rather, totally edible as a meat-on-a-stick type thing and didn't even require any sauce, so crunchy and spicy were they on their own. Compared to other restaurants in London, booze was also extremely well-priced (in the range of three quid rather than four or five), and the menu boasted some fantastic cocktails and mocktails, all very-well created.

Possibly the only foible with the place was the service, which was a little pushy, a little patronising (we'd arrived before the kitchen opened, 6. We were told that fact, and we gladly said we'd have drinks in the meantime, but then they hammered the point home that the kitchen didn't open until 6, as if we were thick. C'mon now). I would also suggest that they could have offered us a wider range of dips to come with the poppadoms (there were two, I'm usually used to three or four in other places) But in terms of food (both palate of flavour and geneorisity of dishes), vibe, and value for money, bung a Tastecard along and you really can’t do much better than Raw Spice.

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Grade: A-

RESTAURANT REVIEWS: Assa Japanese and Assa Korean (Tottenham Court Road)

Since attending a central London-based university at the beginning of October, I’ve wined and dined at several of the restaurants situated around the Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street/Goodge Street area. Terrific for my tummy, less so for my poor River Island purse!

I went to the Japanese Assa a month ago, for lunch.


Being a sucker for salmon, I opted for the salmon tray, and had Japanese beer. It was a very well-presented dish, and I have absolutely no qualms with the quality of the salmon, which was tip-top. The sushi and dumplings also tasted great. In fact, the ensemble was only really let down by the lump of rice, which was presented unimaginatively, and tasted completely bland. There was also not nearly enough. I don’t eat half as much as I do for dinner at lunch, so I shudder to think how starving I’d be had I come here in the evening, but even for a quick lunchbreak between lecturers, even with the extra calories of a beer, I wasn’t near fed enough. My friend had a similar-style dish, again, presented stylishly enough, but not enough there. Thus, in terms of efficacy of a RESTAURANT, I’m afraid I have to give Assa Japanese a C-.

 photo SAM_1007_zpsa37adbf8.jpgThe Korean Assa was visited on Monday evening, and I had a much better gastronomical experience, for smaller prices! We had a seafood pancake to share for starters (wonderful, and delightfully moreish), and for my main I had spicy chicken stir-fry, which, gracefully, didn’t burn my tongue off, but tasted great. The fact that drinks were on the house (cold Korean tea) added to the appeal of visiting this place, and for central London, it was very reasonably priced indeed. I can definitely see myself going back, particularly as it’s so close to my uni. A-.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fish and chips watch: London Fish & Chips

 
London Fish & Chips has a pretty prime location, just off the Strand. There are two floors for seating (for which you'll have to pay above the rate which you'd pay for just a takeaway). The experience was.... eh. Firstly, they only had two waitresses manning the two floors, meaning they got orders mixed up, and I asked for a tartar sauce that never arrived. This was extremely vexing because the waitress had promised to bring it, and as such, I'd paced myself such that I ate about half of my meal, dipping it all over the tartar sauce, and when the second tartar sauce didn't arrive, I had to eat them bare. EH. This was extremely different from how I'm used to things at work, where all the tartar sauce is out in a plate and we can help ourselves. That's how it should be. That wasn't the end of the poor service though, oh no. The woman on the till when I was making my order was extremely curt. Admittedly, I was taking a bit of time to decide, but she was so short, just saying "do you want to go over there and decide?" There wasn't even anyone behind me in the queue! Charming.
 
As for the food itself, it was acceptable, not amazing. The fish tasted better than the chips, which were utterly stale and I had to cover in vinegar to be able to taste anything. The tomato ketchup was awful! So runny. They must've bought it from Costco, so there's your class. Overall, the whole dining experience is not worth the high amounts (in excess of £10) you'd be paying for it, and you're much, much better off just going to your high street.
 
Grade: D-

Saturday, November 23, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Midnight Memories (One Direction)



(this review is of the Deluxe addition of Midnight Memories, which features three more songs than the standard version).

A year on from Take Me Home, the nation’s most lusted after boyband have gotten up to all manner of adventure, from Harry’s failed relationship with Taylor Swift irking her so much that she felt the need to blast him on various public occasions, to Zayn being accused of cheating on Little Mix’s Perrie, only to follow it up with a proposal, classic. The boys have shown they are now fully-fledged #adults by inking various parts of their body (even little Niall has a tattoo now!), and in between that, they’ve managed to star in a Morgan Spurlock documentary, and, oh yeah, make some music.

The album opens with the somewhat ambitiously titled Best Song Ever. It’s not quite that, but it’s a sufficiently cheerful pop number with a catch chorus, making it a shoo-in for playlists in upcoming Christmas parties (I’ve already heard it in upmarket bars!). Happily has a charming country music vibe to it, all strings, banjo, and feet-stamping. Perhaps I’m biased, but I really don’t see the criticism that the boys can’t sing, especially when their voices sound so strong on this track, all without an autotune in sight.

Story of My Life has deepness and maturity that we normally expect these five to eschew, featuring Zayn’s heartfelt delivery of “but baby, running after you is like chasing the clouds”, a gorgeous line of poetry that drives home the sad point that no matter how much you love someone, it might not work. Unfortunately, it was slightly let down by the Mumford and Sons-esque riff in the background, a band I associate with mawkishness. Don’t Forget Where You Belong channel Take That, in a good way, with a cheeky WMYB nod: “and the proof is in this song”. The refrain is absolutely swoon-worthy, exhibiting the vocal talents of the band’s two fittest members, Louis and Zayn (just dictatin’), who’s voices complement each other’s terrifically.

It doesn’t take Alfred Kinsey to work out that in the three years since the band’s inception, One Direction have racked up a few notches in their bedposts, and this worldliness comes across in their music, which is more adult, more self-assured. The album’s title track Midnight Memories serves up GQ-type swagger, boyband style. The line “5 foot something with the skinny jeans” hails 30H!3 Starstruck and its more lascivious “tight jeans, double DDs” with a sexy, rock-style, whilst teetering on the right side of naughty (“Same old shhhh but a different day”) such that pre-teens’ parents won’t refuse to buy the album. Little Black Dress, a throwback to vintage rock that Louis and Liam helped co-pen, simply exudes sex, and is all the better for it. And Alive, which casually glazes upon the topic of sex addiction, features angel-faced Niall reciting “I whisper something in her ear that I just can't repeat”, which is certainly something.

These days, it seems an album isn’t anything without a cheeky bit of dubstep on it, and the token dupstep track of Midnight Memories is Little White Lies, a song which addresses an issue that is under-represented in mainstream pop music by men: that woman want sex just as much as guys do. “I know you want it/ I know you feel it too/ Let's stop pretending/ That you don't know what I don't know/ Just what we came to do” they sing in two-beat, and because this is One Direction, the topic of female desire makes for jaunty music-making, whereas in the hands of Robin Thicke, it just sounds creepy. You see, presentation is everything.
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At 18 songs, the law of averages would dictate that there will be some non-entities, and this album has (possibly more than) its share. Diana is filler song in motion, and the Tears for Fears vibes of Everyone Wants to Rule the World-sounding in the background cannot redeem the ambiguity with the lyrics “I don't think you even realize baby you'd be saving mine” with regards to whether the song is about Princess Diana puts it in the vaguely poor taste category. You and I isn’t as affecting or sweet as their other love songs, and “not even the gods above can separate the two of us” reminds me of the first song (can’t remember the name) on Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz album. It’s never good when a song reminds you of Miley Cyrus, just truthin’. And Strong is a tad corny for me, whilst Does He Know is forgettable, and two of the few songs I would angle the “all One Direction songs sound the same” criticism at. And whilst Midnight Memories had a tolerable amount of Mumford and Sons similarity, Something Great sounded too much like M&F than I felt permissible.

Where I complimented the lads on their braveness to try their hand at falsetto in the Take Me Home album, they clearly had fun doing so, because there’s some more on Right Now, with Zayn pushinghis vocal range at “You know I can't fight the feeling” like a pro. The final song of the deluxe edition, Half a Heart, seems a gloomy tone to depart on, but what it lacks in happiness it makes up for in pure emotion, with Zayn belting “I'm half a man- at best / With half an arrow in my chest/I miss everything we do/ I'm half a heart without you”. It really is true what they say; an artist has to suffer to produce true art, and in the same way, it helps, as a someone appreciating the work if you’ve suffered the pangs of disappointed love, because the lyrics of Half a Heart really resonated. And it seems quite apt that the legendary player of 1D, Harry, ends the song, and the album, with the last sad word.

Persevere with Midnight Memories. Sticking two filler songs within the first five tracks of the album wasn’t too clever, but there is quality on it, not to mention some emotional lyrics that render some of the songs almost as layered as an onion. That being said, I don’t think it surpasses Take Me Home. It ends with less of a bang, and whereas even the filler songs of Take Me Home survived the repeat listening test (I’ve since completely altered my view of Heart Attack, which I’ve decided is brilliant), I imagine you’d have to pay me to re-listen to some of the duds on this album again. However, it’s still better than 99% of the crap that’s out in the music industry, and once again, exhibits that One Direction are so much more than just five pretty faces.

Grade: A-

Fish and Chip watch: Work Canteen.

Work canteen, £3.20 for haddock, potato wedges, tartar sauce and mushy peas (which I forgot to put on so went back for after) :p
Grade: B+.

FILM REVIEW: Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013)



Socialite Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) had lived the charm life in New York, married to a canny, popular financier husband (Alec Baldwin) in a huge mansion. However, her world came crumbling down when said husband was done for being a Ponzi scheme-running crook, and sent to prison. With no life skills, work experience or educational training of her own, she is forced to re-root to San Francisco, where her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) lives. 

The fallen Park Avenue princesses’ transition from entertaining glamorous parties to hosting Ginger’s fiancée Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and his rowdy mates takes some getting used to, and further culture clashes arise when Jasmine takes up a job as a secretary for a dentist, and tries to better herself by “learning computers”.

Blue Jasmine is, on several levels, a difficult watch. Many of the scenes are painfully cringe-inducing, from the opening sequence, where Jasmine is gabbing away to a stranger on the plane about her husband and how great her life had once been, to the various times she is shown talking to herself. Make no mistake, our protagonist is troubled. 

As the film flits back and forth between Jasmine’s excruciating attempts to settle into San Francisco and Gingers’ meagre surroundings and that of the opulence she was used to before everything went sour, we initially begin to feel some sympathy for her. Jasmine is spoilt, no doubt, but going from Louis Vitton to off the rack is a conversion very few would relish.

But the problem with Jasmine is that she is so goddamn superior. Channelling Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Jasmine has no qualms about sneering publicly at her sister’s life, job, and choice in men, and in doing so, putting Chili’s back up. Factor in Jasmine’s predilection for delusion (both to herself and in deceiving others about her history), reliance on Valium and vodka and frail mental state, and you can see why parallels have been drawn between this film and Tennessee Williams’ seminal play.

In some ways, Woody Allen takes it even further than that. The dodgy dealings of Alec Baldwin that made him his fortune but then landed him in jail, is an all-too-familiar reminder of things that actually did go on during the financial crisis and the fallout when several families much less wealthy than him also lost it all, due to their misplaced trust. And, whilst I felt Blanche was a true tragic heroine, I felt a lot more ambivalent about Blanchett’s character here, who flitters between a compelling, frail woman to egotistical snob, and back again.

Kitted out impeccably throughout (she was forced to sell her jewellery after her assets were liquidated, she whines, but somehow manages to keep hold of a Hermes handbag and some designer dresses), she carries herself with the poise of a woman who feels, nay, KNOWS, that she’s something special. The only difference is, whilst in Manhattan, all her social circle indulged her bloated self-esteem, in San Francisco, ain’t nobody got time for that. Chili wants Jasmine out of Ginger’s flat as soon as possible so he can get married and move in with her, and Ginger’s ex-husband and father of her two sons Augie (comedian Andrew Dice Clay, playing it straight) still harbours resentment at the way Jasmine’s husband Hal swindled them out of their one shot at escalating out of working class, no doubt what led to the downfall of his and Ginger’s marriage.

So, a lot of characters to get through in less than 100 minutes, but Allen tells his story confidently and economically. The film’s driving force is undoubtedly Cate Blanchett, who has rightfully already garnered Oscar buzz for the performance. I think it is her best work. Jasmine is less likable than Blanche Dubois but equally as tragic- in the flashback sequences, we learn that not only was Hal a swindler but he was equally dishonest when it came to his marriage, having various affairs behind Jasmine’s back. Jasmine suspects, but, blinded by gorgeous gifts from her husband, chooses to look the other way. In Blanchett’s needy performance, we can tell that deep down, she knows, but is choosing to pretend it isn’t true because she would lose too much if she chose to acknowledge it.

Where actresses have often channelled Woody Allen’s own neurotic performances, played for laughs, Blanchett goes the other way, playing it straight. The result is tragi-comedy nonetheless, but of the squirming, uncomfortable kind. The way Jasmine casually tramples all over Ginger, Chili and their friends’ lifestyles of boozing, pizza and sports on the box is insulting and irritating, but Jasmine has no self-realisation, and it is to Blanchett’s great strength as an auteur that she conveys this. We don’t so much as like her – I don’t feel Allen intended that anyway – as see where she’s coming from. And cringe, a lot. With the cinematography working overtime to highlight Blanchett's gaunt cheekbones, bags under her eyes and smudged mascara, we don't so much root for Jasmine as live Jasmine.

One of the biggest criticisms angled at Blue Jasmine is that it’s unabashedly classist, and, in this, I am inclined to agree. When Jasmine talks down to Ginger about Chili and her ex-husband Augie being “losers”, you don’t so much feel it is Jasmine saying these words as Woody Allen himself, who has clearly never spent any time with working class people in his life, and thus has a caricature built up in his mind of them as simple, beer-loving, ripping-phone-out-of-wall-when-vexed, people. This jars with his representation of the poncy Park Avenue folk Jasmine previously took company with, who, whilst painted lightly satirically as gossiping schemers, does not delve anywhere near as deep as he could if he really wanted to go to town on them and their habits. In short, Manhattan and wealth, in Allen’s eyes = good, good, good. San Francisco and living paycheck to paycheck = bad, bad, bad. Simplistic, to say the least.

Fortunately, the goodness of Jasmine’s poorer acquaintances shines through, regardless of their poor wardrobe choices (Ginger is dressed in unstylish prints and brash colours, quite at odds with her mousy character). British actress Sally Hawkins does a thoroughly convincing West Coast accent as Ginger, and her loyalty to Jasmine throughout is commendable, particularly given the woe her adopted sister has caused her. Bobby Cannavale, in a slight digression of the Stanley Kowalski character, exudes warmth, and we genuinely feel for his plight, of simply wanting to make Jasmine feel like she fits in, only to be told her isn’t good enough. Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard (as a potential suitor for Jasmine, rich, naturally) reach Robin Thicke levels of smarmy, but that suits their characters well. And Andrew Dice Clay is quietly heartbreaking as Ginger’s defeated ex.

The overarching message of Blue Jasmine, it seems, is the perils of self-deception, as well as the importance of helping someone see the truth if they won’t do so themselves. In thus, I embrace the movie with open arms. Whilst the crude class depictions aren’t for everyone, and the melancholy tone and recession-set austerity doesn’t render this film escapism in any way, what it does make for is a gripping morality tale. I rank Blue Jasmine as one of Woody Allen's darkest films, but it is all the better for it. It was too little, too late for Jasmine, but it needn’t be for others. Reality checks are the way forward.

7.5/10

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Yazu Sushi (Mayfair)

Continuing with my penchant for buying food package deals off LivingSocial/Wowcher/Groupon, I forayed back into Wowcher, despite the last deal I got from them being an exercise in false advertising. This time around, the restaurant didn’t so much do differently as it said on the tin, as the reality and the pretty photos placed online being absolutely worlds apart.

Here is what we really had, take in the grubby-looking chipped plates and the unwelcomingly sad looking sushi:


And this is how the sushi was presented on the website. Notice all the glowing wonderful colours that were missing from the real photo.


As for the meal itself, the fish, rice and vegetables were all cooked pretty proficiently, despite the ridiculously small portions (look at that prawn! Look at it! Not looking? That's cos there's barely any there). The tinyness of the food did mean that we ate everything in one bite, and didn't get enough time to savour the taste. However, I haven’t contracted food poisoning yet, a miracle in itself, given how grotty the surroundings were. Let me paint a picture for you: you know how in Yo Sushi, there’s about 10 conveyer belts, and people sit around one of the 10 conveyor belts? Well, Yazu Sushi WAS just one of the conveyor belts. That was it.

Add in the fact that the owner of the restaurant was utterly unwelcoming, greeting me with the kind of abruptness that I’ve come to expect from Chinese folk, but I expected better from the Japanese. His frosty behaviour reached Alan Partridge-levels of hilarity when he told me, about three times, that I was occupying too much room around the conveyor belt, and he practically manhandled me into the corner (so there's yer sexual harrassment) where I was so cramped, it was amazing I could even breathe.

Thus, whilst the food was well-cooked enough, all I can really remember about eating there was the measly portions; inspect the photos for yourself if you don’t believe me. Never in a million years is that enough to feed two people! Factor in that we had a surly host, and frankly, Yazu Sushi is lucky that I’m not giving it an even lower grade.

Grade: D

Friday, November 15, 2013

Just doin' my bit for Children in Need.

Delicious chocolate cake and shortbread, bought from work canteen, as part of a bake sale to raise money for CIN.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quarter pounder watch: North Ealing.

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Price: £2.50
Taste: B+

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Cha Cha Moon (Soho)

The first impression I got when setting foot in Cha Cha Moon was that it reminded me a bit of Busaba Eathai, in that tables for each individual party weren’t segregated, and instead, you were seated as part of a long table. Whilst the restaurants favour this seating arrangement because it means they’ll get more customers, and thus, revenue, as with the Thai restaurant, it makes the place have a bit of an impersonal vibe, which doesn’t put it in my best books to begin with.



Redemption came almost immediately, however. I visited this place using a voucher I bought off Groupon, which entitled me to £40 worth of food there. The deal cost £20, so it was the same as using Tastecard (which I don’t have). However, I was pleasantly surprised when the waiter told me that the deal didn’t just extend to food, but encompassed drink too. This worked out fantastically, because after getting drinks, we had exactly enough for a starter and main each, and thus, didn’t have to over-stuff ourselves just to meet the quota of forty quid.

The cocktails, though not remotely alcoholic, tasted very nice. I had a lime concoction in honour of my e-mail address, and Jake had this cool dragon drink. It’s also a testament to the strength of the cooking at Cha Cha Moon, and the chefs not relying heavily on sauces, that aside from the cocktails, I didn’t require any liquids throughout my meal. I say this because from my extensive experience of Chinese restaurants, I usually need like a gallon of water just to hydrate my body from the copious amounts of soy sauce they bung into the meals.

For starters, we had steamed broccoli (nothing special in my opinion, and if you were paying full-price for that, it was literally £4.50 for a couple of veg, there’s your rip off), and chicken-and-prawn dumplings, which I loved but there was barely any of, and thus only left one for the other guy :p I also enjoyed my main – seafood ho fun. Ho fun is my go-to dish in Chinese restaurants, and it was cooked passably at Cha Cha Moon, without being the finest of the dish I’ve ever had. The scallops went down a treat but the prawns could have done with being de-scaled, and my other main gripe was that there wasn’t enough seafood, and a bit too much ho fun and peppers, the latter of which I would have been happy to see none.

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Fortunately, due to Cha Cha Moon’s generosity in letting my voucher include drinks in it meant that I left the place feeling merrily tipsy, and thus I will return the favour by artificially bumping their grade up a few notches, given that my extensive experience with Chinese restaurants rendered this place really quite unremarkable.

Grade: B

Monday, November 11, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Asadal (Holborn)

Prided on the authenticity of its Korean dishes, Asadal is blessed with the prime location of being literally just next to Holborn tube station, so prospective diners really can’t miss it. From the interiors, it quite clearly has delusions of grandeur, with its plush seats and royal-looking décor, and all this clashes with the outside appearance, which is actually quite shabby.


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The food is edible, but not fantastic, and certainly not value for money considering that our bill came to an excess of £60. We ordered spicy chicken appetisers (very nice), cod fishcakes (instantly forgettable and horrendously overpriced), beef tofu (the beef wasn’t very well-cooked, but the vegetables accompanying the meal were, so very much a mixed bag), and pork belly. I was most excited about the latter, as it actually employed the hot plate at the centre of the table, but unfortunately, turned out to be a monumental disappointment. The pork belly slices weren’t good, and the vegetables that we’d ordered to eat it with (on the waiters’ recommendations) didn’t complement the meat well.


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A further word about the waiters. They weren’t great. I asked them if we should have plum wine or rice wine, and they rolled their eyes as if I’d asked some dumbass questions. Sorry for having questions! All throughout the meal they were surly, and whilst they should have cooked the pork belly for us, they buggered off, meaning we had to do it ourselves. I expect this of sulky restaurant workers in Chinese restaurants who are there from circumstance, not choice (that degree in Art not working out for you, sunshine?), but the last time I was in a Korean place, the staff were altogether much friendlier, and it was a rude awakening to have to deal with that kind of crap on Thursday. Suffice to say, I didn’t tip.

Grade: C

ALBUM REVIEW: Salute (Little Mix)

Little Mix’s second album is as bright and bold as their previous, with the girl group having newfound swag from their globe-trotting exploits to add to their music-making. As with DNA, Little Mix take co-writing credentials on the majority of their album, meaning that Salute is truly the concoction of fierce foursome Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall, as opposed to the bland music industry play-by-numbers girlband that many would expect from the product of a Simon Cowell TV show.



Romantic “Towers” exhibits their growing emotional maturity, a moving ballad about doomed love, a theme that I am personally feeling too strongly too much right now. “Once we were made like towers / Everything could've been ours / But you left it too late now my heart feels nothing, nothing at all” they croon forlornly, to a swelling, majestic string orchestra overlayed with RnB beats. It helps that all four of them are all talented performers, so the delivery of the lyrics sound heartfelt, when the song could have turned out mawkish in lesser vocal talents.

Being unafraid to borrow from their hip-hop sisters is another thing I really rate about Little Mix. They channel both Amerie and Lady Gaga in standout track, “About the Boy”, a feisty, sexy track about a fella who’s just got that one thing. Fabulous harmonisations, an extremely catchy beat, good blend of singing/spoken word and another topic that I have a personal experience or ten of makes for a wonderful song. And the crème de la crème comes at the jazzy refrain, where soon-to-be Mrs. Zayn Malik, Perrie Edwards gets to exhibit her fantastic pipes in her high note, which has to be heard to be believed. And then heard over and over again, because it is just that good.

Like the sass in DNA’s “How Ya Doin’”, the four girls strut their stuff proudly here too, with lyrics like “Boys will be boys, I got plenty knocking on my door / but none of them compare, you’re the one I’m waiting for” in "Nothing Feels Like You". For some reason, Little Mix have the likeability to carry off lyrics like this, whereas in lesser talents, such as Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’tcha”, they could have simply come across as arrogant.

As with most albums, there are a few duds. “These Four Walls” didn’t affect me in the same way as “Towers”, despite it going for the same thematic field, and the frailty that the producers were going for in the girls’ voices comes across as just weak vocals, which definitely undersells them. Similarly, in “Good Enough”, the girls demanding “Am I still not good enough? / Am I still not worth that much?” simply comes across as whiny, and jars with the girl power vibe of the rest of the album, however well-sung.

Thankfully, the rest of the album is all about unabashedly celebrating girls and how terrific we are. “Boy” has serious Destiny’s Child-esque vibes, in both the beat, singing style and the Say My Name-type themes. Their single, “Move”, which they performed recently on X-Factor with gusto, is a hugely enjoyable dance track that is pure pop, with some cool rapping to boot. Perrie is my favourite singer of the four, and she belts out the bridge tremendously, showing an enviable opera-esque quality to her voice that complements her band members well.

In the void left by Girls Aloud, there hasn’t really been a girl band that have reached the heights of them. The Saturdays made a fair crack of it, but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Little Mix may have been fashioned as a cynical money-making ploy to fill that gap, but the make some damn good music. From the military-style Beyonce-esque drumming, messages of not allowing men to play us and cheap and cheerful RnB components, there is nothing in Salute that you won’t have heard before in millions of other songs, but such is Little Mix’s energy, that it all comes off into a pretty decent end product. I salute their second album.

Grade: B+/A-

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Meal of the Day.

Vegetarian tofu stir-fry, £2.95, work canteen.