She’s a spitfire. Young, blonde, and Scandinavian in descent, Annie Lilia Berge Strand should leap out as the embodiment of pop excess. Yet another clone in a never-ending production line that reaches back to Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, I’d expect a legion of shadowy producers/puppeteers is yanking her strings, writings her songs, and ensuring we fix our gaze upon her. I doubt that’s the case, but don’t divert your attention. Not just yet. Also, strike every nasty thing you’ve ever said about pop divas, in public or private, from the record and learn to enjoy the sugary sweet machinations of Norway’s pop princess.
Her music is cross-genre breeding, a hybrid of electro, disco, and pop. It exhibits qualities similar to chewing gum, the name of Annie’s first hit, providing hours of childlike fun and distraction for all. The free-spirited song in question consists of a recurring sonar blip, a quacking synthesizer and Annie playfully explaining how she’s able to control men as easy as a schoolgirl twirling Watermelon Madness ‘round her pinkie. Like nearly all pop it is trite. And yet as my head bops up and down I find my fingers returning the repeat button on several occasions.
While the Royksopp-produced “Heartbreak” is an ethereal ditty with a stammering bassline, the sinister staccato of “Always Too Late” rivals the best UK grime (someone please get Dizzee Rascal or Kano to do a remix). A claustrophobic, tension-inducing number swollen with grimy percussion and wobbly synth lines, the track finds Annie chastising and eventually casting off a perpetually time-challenged lover. She handles it well, at once stuttering alongside the hiccupping beat then abruptly shifting gears, allowing her voice to resonate with orgasmic delight.
Annie’s Anniemal is riveting because it lacks the waxy sheen we’ve grown accustomed to with prefabricated pop. I’m telling you again, fling your preconceived notions out the car window, Annie is different. She’s an unknown with the x-factor. But above all it’s her ability to sell me an optimistic notion of love and life, despite the death of her boyfriend and musical collaborator, that separates her from the crowd. On “No Easy Love”, Annie offers a soulful tale about a love lost. Granted, it could be about a living person, but for me it’s a disguised message to the underworld what with her voice serving as a beacon guiding wayward souls towards the light.
While lackadaisical pop divas lavish in the tabloids and not on the charts (Mariah Carey not included), Annie made this album on her own terms. Free of the striptease showmanship championed by Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Kylie Minogue, her music instead of her midriff is stage centre. Plus Spears is preggers, Minogue has breast cancer, and the spotlight has ceased to shine on Aguilera. Hell, in spite of all that bullshit you shouldn’t care about, not even Willy Wonka and the Umpa Lumpas could make candy pop this sweet.