Keepin’ On Keepin’ On
The story behind the release of Annie’s sophomore album Don’t Stop borders on the mythic. Island Records was originally supposed to release it in the Summer of 2008 only to shelve it in the wake of, among other things, label management changes, poor promotion and performance of the album’s first single, and the unfortunate leak of what many claim was an incomplete version of the album. Annie subsequently parted ways with Island, teamed with new producer Paul Epworth (of Bloc Party fame) and retooled the album, inserting, deleting and re-sequencing several tracks. Don’t Stop is finally out officially on Smalltown Supersound. Given how most of her audience already has access to and familiarity with much of the material, the question is whether or not the album still holds any surprises or new rewards for the listener. The answer is yes, but they’re not always worth the cost.
No matter which version of Don’t Stop you have, it will doubtlessly feel incomplete. Original single “I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me” is nowhere to be found on the new model, nor is its excellent, Italo-cized follow-up “Anthonio.” Both were produced by long-time collaborator Richard X (their history dates back to her first album Anniemal) and are sorely missed. X’s only remaining contribution on record is the rollicking, four-to-the-floor rager “Songs Remind Me of You,” a sort of kindred spirit to her melancholy signature hit, “Heartbeat.” Instead, Annie opted to dedicate more disc space to the results of her team-up with British hit-maker Xenomania (Girl Aloud). Though his bombastic style suits her surprisingly well on the cheeky “My Love is Better” (the addictive guitar support from Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos helps) and glistening “Bad Times,” it swallows her whole on the New Order-ing “Loco” and too-cute-for-its-own good “Heaven and Hell,” both of which appear later in the track-listing and make for a jarring shift in tone. Annie seems to just be along for the ride on these tracks, rather than taking the lead.
That said, not all of the changes to Don’t Stop are questionable ones. The Epworth additions are noteworthy for simultaneously being the most club-ready and the closest in sonic spirit to Annie’s peak work. “I Don’t Like Your Band” is a cutting sequel to previous kiss-off number “Chewing Gum” that goes into scathing detail about what makes her current suitor unworthy: his sub-par musical taste. Meanwhile, the title track glides on a seductive pulse and wistful melody that would have fit right in on Anniemal. New opener “Hey Annie” even re-purposes the pep squad call-and-response technique of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” to winning effect. Unfortunately, the quality of the fresh blood also emphasizes the mediocrity of songs like the schmaltzy “When the Night” and grating “Breakfast Song” all the more. Why was Annie compelled to keep songs like these when the omitted Richard X work suited her both her style and her new songs so much better?
Such debates are rendered moot anyway by the inclusion of the All Night EP with the new album, basically containing everything that people may not already have from the Don’t Stop sessions. Best advice for the disenchanted is to quit complaining and piece together his or her own perfect Annie album from the materials provided. Meanwhile, Annie should use this time to learn from what went wrong and press onward. This was a long and belabored transitional period for her and that she came out the other side at all is fairly miraculous. There’s enough evidence and creative growth stretched across this material to suggest that she has another Anniemal in her. She just needs return to the right places for more of it.