Originally scheduled for a 2007 release, Annie’s follow-up to 2004’s Annimal finally hits shelves and desktops in late 2009. The period in between saw the nearly inevitable leak of an album that resembles, but is ultimately inferior to, the finished product. After all the delays, the wait was worth it: Don’t Stop exudes polish, depth, and the sense that Annie is moving confidently forward as a pop artist of the first order.
The confidence isn’t apparent at first, but being the playful imp she is, it turns out to be a bluff. The album kicks off with “Hey Annie”, a track that resembles the cadences of her debut Annimal. It’s an appropriate transitional track — one that bridges the conceptual gap between her two releases. Annie’s staccato delivery and cheerleader backing vocal recall her debut’s playful tone, but the brooding drum track and oscillating synth line suggest the slightly darker tone throughout Don’t Stop. The track seemingly brings the struggle of releasing her second album to bear. When she sings that she’s “Caught between the present and the future / Which is left to decide,” she sounds genuinely apprehensive, as if she’s convincing herself that yes, her second record is finally out.
Any hesitancy, however, washes away by the second track “My Love is Better”. This is the Annie of “Chewing Gum” — the alpha female on the prowl for another boy to use and scrape off her shoe. “My Love Is Better” is her statement of assurance and one that comes backed by more guitar than on any track on Annimal. The thumping electro of her debut is still in effect, but guitar riffs play central roles in songs like “My Love Is Better” and “Bad Times”. Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos is among the guest musicians on the album and his influence is apparent in these tracks. The album also includes input from Annimal associates Timo Kaukolampi and Richard X, and new additions Paul Epworth and Brian Higgins. In spite of the many hands and ears involved in the making of Don’t Stop, the album manages a fragile cohesion through sheer force of Annie’s personality, point-of-view, and pop sensibility.
The world of indie has an uneasy relationship with pop music — a relationship that Annie deftly straddles with her self-aware persona. Her music is unabashedly “pop” but Annie isn’t afraid to inject her sense of humor or go to darker places most pop princesses fear to tread. “Marie Cherie” tells a story of longing, murder, and loneliness and acts as Annie’s nod to French pop in the tradition of Brigitte Fontaine and Serge Gainsbourg. The darkness continues on “Take You Home” where she admits, “I cannot lie, my fear of you is strong / I don’t love you, I want to take you home.” It’s a taciturn admission framed with ominous beats and groaning synths. “Take You Home” is her “Nightclubbing” — a track that staggers through dark streets in search of the next fix. Only in Annie’s case, no-strings sex is her drug of choice. Where Annie might have included darker lyrical themes in Annimal, she kept to sounding bouncy and bright. On Don’t Stop, she shows the confidence to sound morose. The fact that Annie manages to pull off darker-sounding material in the midst of cheeky dance floor bangers like “I Don’t Like Your Band” is to her great credit.
The stab at mainstream balladry called “When the Night”, however, doesn’t fare as well within the context of the album. Don’t Stop would probably be better served by between-album singles “Anthonio” and “I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me”. Not only does “When the Night” feel a bit rote and familiar, it treads in well-worn sentiments rather than in the smart wordplay found throughout the other tracks on the album. Even “The Breakfast Song” comes off as cerebral as compared with “When the Night”.
All tracks considered, Annie makes a significant step forward with Don’t Stop. That step that might have taken awhile to hit the floor, but was well placed when it did.