Filed under: album, review | Tags: 2009, annie, charlotte richardson andrews, music
Don’t Stop •••½
Before Little Boots and La Roux were even a twinkle in the eyes of music bloggers, Norway’s own electro princess Annie Strand was breaking ground with her fresh-faced blend of dance-friendly, adjectival pop. Her 2004 debut Anniemal got amateur and professional critics alike in a spin, mostly for the sheer likeability of its saccharine-free tunes, sweet but with an undercurrent of Scandinavian melancholy. But while that album’s most prominent tracks ‘Chewing Gum’ and ‘Heartbeat’ continued to air on dancefloors, the album stalled without a string of live performances to give it the required momentum and Annie departed from 679 Recordings, disillusioned but not defeated. Accordingly, the title of Don’t Stop was already something of a manifesto when Annie signed to Island Records to release it last year, only to gain even more significance in the light of her well documented split from that label too. Now with a newly-inked deal with Norwegian cult label Smalltown Supersound, Annie attempts to shrug off the five-year gap between albums with a hip-swaying sashay of emancipation. Quitting was never an option, and the blonde haired, Berlin dwelling artist is finally rolling with her artistic vision battled for and won.
Like her first LP, Don’t Stop manages the breathtaking feat of pleasing both pop connoisseurs and indie fans who prefer their music with an authentic, DIY edge. Having written and created the album independently, Annie is certainly a one-woman force of creativity. Showing the kind of steely determination that echoes Madonna, she “handpicked” her own team of producers and collaborators, including spots from Xenomania, Richard X, Paul Epworth and the returning Timo Kaukolampi, plus added musical muscle from Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and Frederik Saroea of Datarock. She has clearly chosen well as the crux of the album’s charm lies in its ability to both acknowledge modern trends in the ever-expanding electro movements, and recall the genre’s antecedent innovators. From the suave, retro pop of ’80s New Romance and ’90s chart-friendly dance, to shades of dark, trip hop affiliated samples and sleek, modern electro with all the equaliser trimmings, Don’t Stop pretty much does precisely as its title commands, never letting up or taking its eyes off the prize.
Opener ‘Hey Annie!’ evokes touches of Gwen Stefani with its ‘Hollaback Girl’ hooks while ‘Bad Times’ earns kudos for its anthemic ’80s soft rock rhythm. ‘I Don’t Like Your Band’ should be an instant hit with its playfully honest, raspberry-blowing humour and catchy grooves, echoing the successful formula of earlier hit ‘Chewing Gum’, while ‘Take You Home’ adds a splash of the sensual to the album’s generally wholesome feel with its blunt, uninhibited sexuality. Current single ‘Songs Remind Me Of You’ adds a throbbing, dark-disco dimension, paving the way for the lush, symphonic pop of ‘Marie Cherie’, an atmospheric, nostalgia-evoking work of widescreen fiction. Weak spots on Don’t Stop include ‘When The Night’, a ’90s pop ballad throwback that’s far too cheesy with its soft-focus synths and cooing lyrics, and the album’s title track, which starts off promisingly but burns out by the chorus.
Despite being one of the most celebrated tracks from the 2008 album leak, ‘My Love Is Better’ sounds like a less mean ‘Don’t Cha’ in its rival-baiting lyrics, and the fighting talk, undoubtedly meant to be empowering, comes across as spiteful, even if its arrangements are on point. ‘Loco’ manages to combine the best elements of seemingly disparate bands, with electro basslines akin to Fischerspooner’s ‘Emerge’ blended with all the singsong melodies of Girls Aloud. Annie’s talent for merging an array of existing styles and sounds into something not only coherent but entirely her own is undeniable. Relevant, self-aware and adventurous, this dexterous flair for seamlessly decade-spanning, genre-skipping arrangements makes Don’t Stop a technically credible album, but never at the cost of its feelgood vibes.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 19/10/09; www.myspace.com/anniemusic
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