With the 2004 release of Anniemal, Norweigan pop artist Annie combusted the conversation about pop music versus indie music, about irony versus authenticity. People again began to make seemingly obvious comments about how it’s OK to enjoy pop music in a heartfelt way. Anniemal was relevant. But without tackling such a pervasive cultural question, Annie’s second album, Don’t Stop, is not.
On “Songs that Remind Me of You,” Annie sings, “How does it feel to hear your songs on the radio?” It’s easy to imagine every female between the ages of 4 and 32 singing the same words into a mirror, hairbrush in hand. It’s also easy to imagine Annie singing it to herself, and in doing so, owning up to her desire for success. (“Superficiality is no longer superficial if you admit to it,” goes the sentiment.)
Some of these songs do, of course, belong on the radio: They’re saturated with production effects catered to a generation that calls its designer drug “ecstasy,” all wrapped around indulgent hooks, sentimental lyrics, and a sweet voice airbrushed into flawlessness. But Annie flaunts too much. Armored with sing-song verses, castrated surf guitars, an overall sweet-16 feeling, and the hook — always her trump card — she lords over her competition in “My Love Is Better,” in which she sings that her love, heart, moves, shoes, kiss, lips and hips are all superior. The really interesting part of the song, which is ironically subtle, is when she sinks the twist at the end: She is singing not to a competitor but to her lover. It’s S&M-lite for pop listeners, a domme humiliating her sub while proclaiming herself superior, together with a highly juicy sound.
Things get professionally and personally biting in “I Don’t Like Your Band,” a song with a bombastic bass line complemented by ‘80s synthesizer sounds. Annie’s proclamation here goes like this: “That stuff you play/ It sounds so passé/ Don’t get me wrong/ I like you/ But I don’t like your band/ Your style/ Your sound/ No, I don’t like your band,” et cetera. This song might suit a drag queen’s on-stage bravado, but otherwise it’s simply too pompous.
Not pop affectation nor interesting sexual politics nor delightful hooks are going to get an album on repeat. These verses have too much dead weight, the lyrics too mundane, and I find myself yearning for dub remixes that will make the music interesting. I want to hear them cut and chopped; I want to see Anthony Hegarty pervert them with grief like he did to Beyonce’s “Crazy.” It’s the sort of yearning that makes me suspicious of Annie’s ability to connect.
Just look at what happens to the slower songs, in which weaknesses can’t be brushed over with speed. “Marie Cherie,” “Take You Home” and “When the Night” are easily dismissible save for their soundtrack potentials. (In fact, Annie mentions another song, “Heaven and Hell,” as being “the sort of song [she] hears playing as credits roll in an imaginary romantic comedy.”)
These tracks all have their problems. “Marie Cherie” tries the chamber-pop thing but ends up sounding like a Nouvelle Vague rip-off. “Take You Home” is a straight-laced down-tempo bit that spotlights boring lyrics. “When the Night” is a synthesized disaster as dated as tulle prom dresses, with the optimism only capable of a 13-year-old or a person on ecstasy. But Annie is right, even though she was talking about the wrong song: These tracks could really swoop down at the right cinematic moment, particularly with Hugh Grant or Lindsay Lohan involved. Just don’t expect me to listen to them.
The mediocrity of this album wouldn’t be so glaring if not for Annie’s cockiness (note again song titles like “I Don’t Like Your Band” and “My Love is Better”). Even “The Breakfast Song,” which she claims to have written while making said meal, presumes that the question of “What do you want/ What do you want for breakfast?” is an interesting one, one that should be asked repeatedly.
Arrogance might be necessary in the “fake it ‘till you make it,” alpha-Hollywood kind of way, and in that sense, Annie’s attitude could be good for profit margin. But you can’t you say anything relative about being a human being if you’re too concerned with perfection, because a façade of perfection doesn’t just alienate “alternative” listeners. It alienates everyone.