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Don't Stop

[Smalltown Supersound; 2009]

By ; November 4, 2009 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

The so-called “sophomore slump” is a bitch. After the critical smash of 2004’s Anniemal, Annie had everything to lose — would her brand of chirpy, chipper electropop still be in vogue with fickle indie types and fickler critics by the time she released a follow up? When it comes to pop, novelty is a premium, but novelty wears all too quickly, and it’s not hard to foresee Annie falling victim to such an unfortunate fate. But whatever the odds, it seemed she was set up for success; she signed with a major label (Island Records) and prepared to finally release her follow-up album, Don’t Stop, in 2008. Preceded by the excellent single “I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me,” Annie appeared to have pervaded over naysayers and triumphed again. But the single floundered commercially and she promptly left Island, leaving herself (and her record) floating in limbo.

Annie remained conspicuously quiet for the ensuing year, until announcing another (excellent) single, “Anthonio,” in the summer of this year. Shortly thereafter, a release date for the doomed record was finally announced, now on Norwegian label Smalltown Supersound, home to Lindstrøm, Jaga Jazzist, and others. But a record needs more than just context. First thing first – neither of the aforementioned songs are present on this album. Surprisingly enough, the album does not suffer at all for it. Don’t Stop, especially considering its tumultuous history and difficult trudge into existence, is something to be celebrated. Simply put, it was worth the wait.

The album begins with “Hey Annie,” an energetic track with bubbling percussion produced by Paul Epworth, who seems to bring out the sultrier, wistful side of Annie. That’s not to say this album is at all slow or subdued — in fact, it’s more of a dance album than Anniemal ever was. The other two Epworth tracks are almost dancefloor-ready; the title track sounds like a tantalizing house track that just happens to have an Annie vocal over it, and the wry and hilarious “I Don’t Like Your Band” takes the French Touch filterhouse aesthetic to an extreme. Everything on the track is filtered, even the vocals; there is very little low or high end to speak of, just a chunk of ugly, distorted midrange. It’s a surprising and startling production job, and it makes Annie sound even more sardonic and dismissive singing through the neutered filter. It’s a tricky thing for an artist to say “That stuff you play/It sounds so passe” in their own song, but when she sounds so unflinchingly futuristic and forward-thinking, it all makes sense.

Richard X, who played an important role on Anniemal, is only responsible for one track here. But it is the unquestionable high point of the album, and makes for an excellent centerpiece dropped right in the middle of the proceedings. “Songs Remind Me of You” is a passive-aggressive breakup track featuring Annie-aping Kylie Minogue in the most appealing, pleasing way imaginable. Singing over a bed of earnest, chugging beats, it is perhaps the most propulsive, direct song Annie has recorded to date, and it has the unfortunate effect of making the second half of the album feel just a little bit inferior, but not to a completely detrimental effect.
As for the rest of the album, it is mostly produced by Girls Aloud masterminds Xenomenia and the other Anniemal producer, fellow Norwegian Timo Kaukolampi. Surprisingly enough, the Kaukolampi tracks are the only thing even approaching a downside to this album. Maybe it’s just that amongst all the dancefloor bangers they are too low-key, but “Marie Cherie,” despite its whimsical melody and lyrics, drags for about a minute too long. “Take You Home” is less memorable than the other uptempo tracks and “The Breakfast Song” is just plain bizarre. Its shouted chorus of “What do you want for breakfast?!” sounds like some unused Kellogg’s jingle, but infused with Annie’s inimitable personality, it’s never annoying or grating.

Xenomania, on the other hand, are almost exclusively successful and provide a more varied array of styles than any of the other producers. The autumnal “Bad Times” feels closest to the indie pop aesthetic that Annie has distant origins in, with a chiming guitar riff and reflective vocals. The English production group later wraps up the album with a fantastic and dynamic three-song sequence. Featuring the Blondie-esque (stripped of the peculiar masculinity that Debby Harry brought to her songs), almost-rockabilly “Loco,” the endearingly sappy ballad “When The Night,” and finally the energetic “Heaven and Hell.” The latter is a perfect pop song that doesn’t lean too much in any direction, instead content with being simply itself, the archetypal Annie song.

When Annie says “Get your headphones on/And listen to some cosmic songs” in “I Don’t Like your Band,” it seems like she might just be referring to her own album. On the surface it’s a pop trifle, but dig a little bit deeper and you’ll find witty, heartfelt lyrics supported by some seriously impressive production. Annie has not only overcome expectations after the superb Anniemal, but with Don’t Stop she has created a vital pop record, one that in 2009 sounds even more relevant, vital and absolutely necessary than Anniemal did back when it was released. Considering it took her almost five years to finish her first album (and it’s been five years since that one) Annie clearly doesn’t think very highly of deadlines. But why question her methods when she has produced two consecutive masterpieces?


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