City Paper is not for tourists
Several pop lifetimes have passed since we last heard from Annie, the smart, wispy-voiced singer/DJ from Norway. It’s been five years since her last album, 2004’s excellent, hyper-aware Anniemal; the same amount of time elapsed between that project and the release of her debut single, “The Greatest Hit.” So what gives? In the case of the latter, grief: Her romantic partner and musical collaborator, Tore Kroknes, died in 2001, and it took Annie (née Anne Lilia Berge Strand) a year to grieve, then two to compose a new album. As for the more recent delay, blame the industry: Last summer, Island began its rollout of Annie’s sophomore long-player, Don’t Stop, with the single “I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me.” The song charted poorly in the U.K., and the label and singer split, leaving the album, which had leaked by that point, unreleased. Twelve months, some additional sessions, and a new record company later, Annie is back with a version of Don’t Stop she has said she is happy with. On the new version, Annie doesn’t do doe-eyed, as perhaps Island execs had hoped. Instead, she hops between mean-girl braggadocio (“The stuff you play/It sounds so passé,” she sings on “I Don’t Like Your Band”), electropop boosterism (“In the music you might discover/A new pulse, a new beat, a new love,” she says on “Hey Annie”), and most crucially, lovelorn introspection. The album’s best cut, “Songs Remind Me of You,” eulogizes Annie’s late lover to an insistent laser-beam beat. She’s not much of a lyricist, and her two proven strengths—hooks and ideas—can sometimes feel as thin as her limited-range vocals (Her Jane Birkin impression on “Marie Cherie” feels especially forced, especially given the song’s melodramatic, chanson-style string swells). But on at least half of Don’t Stop, Annie nails it, buttressed by dependable producers like Richard X, Paul Epworth, Timo Kaukolampi, and Xenophobia, not to mention reference points spanning Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Röyksopp, and Frankie Knuckles, often within single songs. On “Bad Times,” Annie maps out feelings of loneliness amid processed, New Wave–y guitars, while on “Take You Home,” her meditations on a loveless dalliance swim in synthy atmospherics. Like her superior first album, Don’t Stop is enamored by ’80s synthpop. Its thematic aims, meanwhile, prove grander, even if Annie can’t wholly pay them off: Here is a pop album about moving forward without looking back. Her peppy dance pop lends itself to the theme, but Annie’s moping, thoughtful moments are her best. “Does it hurt to hear those songs on the radio?” she asks, hopelessly, in “Songs Remind Me of You.” Yes, it’s miserable. And wonderful.