on 14 January 2006
Great pop is something to be celebrated. In a world of disposable pop stars, Annie stands out a mile. Her music is co-produced by an army of techno-wizards behind people like Liberty X, the Sugarbabes and Rachel Stevens, though, this album is light years ahead of anything those acts could release. The reason Anniemal works so well is because the songwriting is so good. You could strip most of these songs down to an acoustic guitar or piano and they'd still be the most perfect pop songs you could ever imagine. It also helps that Annie, as a performer, has a great voice... she sounds so fragile and naïve, in the best tradition of bubble-gum (or should that be chewing gum?) pop, using her voice to complement the songs and to entice the listener into her strange and beautiful little pop universe. Why this album hasn't sold by the ton - and why Annie hasn't been crowned the new queen of pop - is beyond me?
Anniemal is perfect pop in the future-tense. It's better than anything the celebrated like of Kylie and the Sugarbabes have done as well, with Annie taking that same smooth, shimmering, electro production, but combining it with songs that are personal, masking a great sense of heart and melancholy behind gorgeous pop hooks and sublime dance beats. I was sceptical at first, put-off by the album's obvious pun in the title and the allusions to those aforementioned pop-strumpets, but this is really electronic pop that can be enjoyed by people who wouldn't normally listen to such. As I said before, the songwriting is exceptional, filled with depth and lyrical intelligence (for example, take a listen to the proto-rap on Me Plus One, with Annie tripping over herself to pack in as many sublime couplets as she can), and delivered with those slightly shy and utterly beguiling lead vocals.
Annie voice is perfect, whether offering up wry, almost spoken lyrics on first single Chewing Gum (a song that initially seems quite inane and annoying, but eventually sinks in and really gets under your skin, like all the best pop songs should), or offering up gentle singling, like on the intro to the epic Come Together, or on the wilting electro-lullaby, My Best Friend. Intro is a great way to start, offering up that bouncing production filled with blips and bleeps, as Annie urges her collaborators to "start the record", before the song merges seamlessly into the should have been classic Chewing Gum. From hereon in, the entire album is just a non-stop joy. The next track, Always Too Late, has a great rap section and synthetic strings that give it an almost orchestral quality... to say that it's better than anything by the Streets would be an understatement, whilst next single Heartbeat is quite simply a master-class in pop songwriting and really, deserves to be number one right across Europe!!!
Helpless Fool for Love is a great piece of pop, seemingly referencing the static, Computer World-era sound of Kraftwerk and the cool chic of Donna Summer disco, simultaneously, juxtaposing nicely with the bouncy pop joy of the title track, on which Annie's voice manages to sound both quiet and quaint, but also defiantly seductive (a definite case of "Norwegian wood" then... arf, arf!!). Annie saves her most seductive moment for the cool vocals of Happy Without You, which has a great beat and an absolutely fantastic chorus refrain, which should really single it out as a potential club hit. It's one of the highlights of this remarkable album, helped along by the grinding, dirty, electro-clash grime of the instrumentation (filled with all manner of jarring bleeps and processed echoes and gargles) all complimenting Annie's sexy-as-hell vocal delivery and the overall greatness of the lyrics. The Greatest Hit dates back to the late-90's and is already a club-classic... featuring Annie's cool vocals, which really capture the ecstasy and excitement of strobe-lit club-life and, that idea of lush, hazy, loved-up l'amour.
As others have mentioned, the backing samples Madonna's 80's club-classic Everybody, and shows us how musically unsophisticated Madge's Abba-sampling single Hung Up really is... with Annie and her collaborators managing to take enough of Everybody for the nod to work, but also including some music of their own. The effect makes it feel like you're right there alongside Annie on blissed-out dance floor, with the lights and smoke-machines creating a woozy atmosphere, and the song drifting in from the back. Come Together is the album's real epic... clocking in at a whopping seven-minutes and forty-nine seconds, but never outstaying it's welcome, it captures Annie on something approaching top form... creating a magical and evocative groove that is impossible to resist. The track starts slowly (as noted above), with Annie's fragile delivery eventually giving way to a galloping electronic beat that slowly gathers momentum before pulling back into a lush, ambient, stop-start middle-eight, filled with echoed vocals, hints of funk and laser'd phaser-style effects.
The closing track is another favourite of mine, with Annie slowing things down to an almost chilled-out (or blissed-out) effect. It's the perfect ending to the perfect pop album... the sleepy coda, perfect for capturing the sleepy bliss of the morning after the night before. The song also reminds me of Abba's classic ode to the ghosts of failed relationships, Like An Angel Passing Through My Room, managing to capture that same sense of late-night melancholy and heartache... proving, once and for all, that Anniemal, as an album, has deeper interpretations lurking beneath the shamelessly POP-exterior. Annie is just great, managing to create pop music that is both joyous, but also filled with depth... she deserves to be huge... and her album really deserves your attention. Honestly, this isn't just one of the standout albums of 2005... it's one of the greatest debut albums of all time.