Nobody’s going to be comparing it to Chinese Democracy anytime soon, but as indie-minded electropop albums go, Annie’s Don’t Stop has been a long-awaited one. Originally slated for release in mid-2008, its release has been continually kicked down the road, first to allow for more time to promote it, and subsequently because the Norwegian songstress left Island Records with the masters and a plan to release it in a different form than initially suggested. All the while an early version of the album and its lead single “I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me” circulated on the Internet to positive reviews.
A year and a half after the fact, Don’t Stop finally hit shelves with an adjusted tracklist, some additions and some omissions. And whatever anxiousness and impatience Annie may have toyed with for the past 18 months, she is forgiven with this excellent offering. Following up the bubbly, seemingly effortless brilliance of Anniemal, Don’t Stop finds Annie Lilia Berge Strand with an album equally catchy and danceable, but a bit more diverse and expansive, adding both a cinematic ethereality in parts and a punchy rock explosiveness in others.
Once again teaming up with producers Timo Kaukolampi and Richard X on Don’t Stop, Annie likewise has a few new co-conspirators this time around, namely Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Kylie Minogue) and Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Maxïmo Park). In fact, Xenomania is the most prevalent production team on the record, having stepped behind the boards for five of the album’s tracks. Given their track record, it’s not surprising then that at least three of them have “smash hit” written all over them. “My Love Is Better,” originally the source of some controversy due to Girls Aloud requesting that their backing vocals be removed from the song, is classic Annie. She’s cocky, confident and sexy, sneering “my moves are better…than your moves” over propulsive bass throbs and some streamlined guitar licks courtesy of Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. A bit sillier, though still endlessly fun is “Loco,” while the brilliant melodic shimmer of “Bad Times” could have even been mistaken for an Epworth contribution (if those gorgeous guitar melodies don’t scream Bloc Party, I don’t know what does).
Epworth, however, does manage to capture the best of Annie in his three tracks, starting off with album opener “Hey Annie.” Not included on last year’s leaked version, it’s a gradual build of a song, laying down big, booming bass drums before twinkly keyboards make a gossamer sheen over Annie’s dueling, call-and-response vocal tracks. The title track pulls a similar trick, finding the singer delivering a higher, breathier verse over popping and flexing beats. Yet much like “My Love Is Better,” the buzzing sample hiccup of “I Don’t Like Your Band” is Annie at her bubblegum best, dropping some brutal honesty on her beau: “I don’t like your music/ I’m just not into it/ It’s not you, it’s not you…I don’t like your band.”
That savage confidence proves equally irresistible in nightclub sex raga “Take You Home,” a writhing, slithering standout with a fairly blunt message at its center: “I don’t love you/ I wanna take you home.” That it’s followed by “The Breakfast Song” makes sense when you look at how the prior evening might progress, but its ecstatic yelps are a bit strange to say the least: “What do you want? What do you want for BREAKFAST?!” Yet the honor of the album’s best song goes to its lone Richard X-produced track, “Songs Remind Me of You,” a sleek, high-energy disco number that approaches the emotionality of “Heartbeat” with its chorus of “how does it feel to hear your songs on the radio?/ And does it hurt to hear those songs on the radio?”
While the album does lose steam in its final two tracks, easily the fluffiest in Annie’s discography, the finished version of Don’t Stop has a more cohesive flow and stronger presentation than its original, unofficial incarnation. Five years after her outstanding debut, Annie has not only kept up the energy that made her exciting, but built something bigger upon that solid framework. Still, as strong an album as this is, she could have left a little room for “Anthonio.”
Robyn – Robyn
Rachel Stevens – Come and Get It
Goldfrapp – Supernature
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.