Remember the brouhaha surrounding Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine? To refresh your memory, in 2004, leaks from Apple’s forthcoming third album leaked on to the Internet. Eventually an album’s worth of material was circulating, and people weren’t certain why the much-delayed album had no release date. Was the big, bad major label stifling her creativity? Why was this awesome album not pressed and shipped to stores around the world? We eventually learned that it was partially label pressure and partially Apple’s artistic decisions that shelved the album. In the fall of 2005 a new, re-recorded Extraordinary Machine was released with a tweaked track listing.
The year those tracks leaked, Norwegian DJ-turned-singer Annie released her debut album, Anniemal. The album, which can most accurately be described as electropop, produced some of the decade’s most infectious singles and did a brilliant job balancing slick production with deceptively simple pop tunes. Songs like “Chewing Gum” and “Heartbeat” are irresistible fun but have a dark theme running through them that help set her apart from mindless chart toppers. In 2008 the world was ready to embrace Annie’s sophomore release, Don’t Stop. The album cover and track listing were released along with two singles. Then the date got pushed back a few times until Annie left her label. Magically, the entire album leaked and no one knew what was going on. Eventually, she released a new single, revealed a revised track listing and album cover for the forthcoming album, and gave a new, solid release date. In the end, some of the songs didn’t make the cut and others were added. DéjÃ vu!
And as with Extraordinary Machine, Don’t Stop demands fans who have copies of both the bootleg and official releases to judge the LP on what’s there, not what’s missing. So what is on Don’t Stop? The same polished sound, compelling rhythms, and slick voice of her debut. Missing are the tracks that sound like instant hits. These tracks are catchy and will get you moving, but they’re weighed down by heavier emotions than the debut’s songs. That’s not a bad thing. Annie’s tongue was definitely planted in her cheek when she told men they weren’t chocolate to be savored but rather disposable chewing gum. This time, she’s using that tongue to lash them.
Although not a concept album, Don’t Stop resembles Franz Ferdinand’s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand in that the tracks sound as if they’re sequenced to chronicle a night in the life of Annie. Only instead of having a blast, she’s getting over a broken heart. You can trace the evening as you work your way through the album. On the second track, “My Love is Better”, Annie makes no qualms that everything about her is in fact better than her former lover’s. She sings, “My love is better/than your love/My heart is better/than your heart/My moves are better/than your moves/My shoes smell better.” She follows it up with “Bad Times” and then goes on to proclaim in the title track that she has her eyes set on someone and she’s not giving up, whether he likes it or not. At this point, we’re in the point of the night when you’re forcing yourself to dance and have fun even though you can’t quit thinking about your breakup.
Along the way, Annie realizes that her new man seemed perfect but she doesn’t like the band he’s in on the appropriately titled “I Don’t Like Your Band”, which relies on a drum loop that must have come from an early 90’s dance track. The next tune, “Songs Remind Me of You”, sounds like it was produced in 1985 when musicians were wondering what dance music in 2020 might sound like. Forget the melancholy lyrics — her ability to create a song that’s both nostalgic and futuristic is no small feat. Through the course of the album she decides she wants to take someone home, and then on the next song screams at him, “What do you want for breakfast?!” By the time Don’t Stop wraps up, she’s still ruminating on her relationship with “Heaven and Hell”, which sounds like a Norwegian tribute to the Beach Boys with its layers of synths and bubbly (but still dark) chorus.
Here’s where things gets tricky. On its own, Don’t Stop is a welcome return from one of pop’s finest acts and a strong entry for one of the best dance albums of the year. Yet, if you heard any of the previous tracks not on the final cut, you might be disappointed. Luckily, a two-disk edition of the album was released with All Night, an EP that contains two previously released singles and one of the leaked songs. If you don’t know what you’re missing, you might not care that much, but as many people as possible need to hear “Anthonio”. A semi-autobiographical ode to a lover she met on vacation, “Anthonio” is the perfect blend of heartache and digital beats that would be a chart-topper in a perfect world. Alas, we’ll have to settle with having it on an EP. The EP’s title and sequencing seems to be an extension of the night-on-the-town theme, except this is a different night and things seemed to have gone worse. That she follows up “Anthonio” with a song called “I Can’t Let Go” should give you an idea that Annie can’t resist ruining your parties by talking about her misfortune. But she sounds good doing it, so you probably won’t care.
Don’t Stop and the All Night EP were worth the five-year wait, and they raise the bar for her third release. Anniemal explored some of the same themes, but it could be overlooked as a harmless pop record, and Annie’s videos and cutesy appearance certainly played that up. However, this new work further explores her dark side and doesn’t let you forget about the emotions permeating every beat. Lady GaGa seems to toy with this style and Little Boots seems to be heading in the same direction. Annie is already there and might be on to something more sinister by the time everyone else catches up.