When Annie’s “Heartbeat” (mp3) hits stride, about one-third of the way into her debut Anniemal, the beautiful blonde electro-pop star-to-be attaches you to the receiving end of 1,000,000 pounds of helium. And, to be honest, you never really come down.
The album, Anne Lilia Berge-Strand’s heavily delayed debut, stresses the moment. After all, Annie thought Anniemal would be in stores years ago, but the unfortunate death of her boyfriend/producer to heart complications managed to halt all progress. The two, who’d collaborated on 1999 minor club smash “The Greatest Hit,” appeared to have all momentum in their favor, but Anniemal is the result of a blessing in disguise. There is an evident hint of sadness all over the album–”No Easy Love” is a terribly heartbreaking song in particular, but even the brighter, faster selections feature small vocals that are more fragile than triumphant. This is the album’s advantage, as the depth that its back-story allows makes Annie a far more rewarding listen than any of her house peers. This isn’t an album of star-produced singles, ready to be fired from the hip of some New York Underground boss. It’s a bittersweet, varied collection of electro-pop and dance songs with complex production. Unlike most of her peers, this is not a disposable affair. Though lazy journalists favor comparisons to Kylie Minogue, Annie bears more in common with Stars and Junior Boys.
Anniemal‘s delay is also a benefit because of the atmosphere in which it is released. The hipsters would not have been prepared for an album of this magnitude six years ago. Like M.I.A., Annie’s rise has been decidedly un-meteoric, and her fan-base is comprised of more backpack-toting shut-ins than actual club-goers. Word-of-mouth has aided her popularity immensely, but we need to get Anniemal in clubs immediately–as great as it is to have snobby music-types in your corner, we all know this wasn’t created as background sound for blogging in solitude. It just happens to be a dance album with more durability than the typical dance album, and Annie’s breezy voice and sex appeal appear to make her a dark horse for Debbie Harrie’s crown (give it up, Gwen–you don’t deserve it).
The album straddles a fine line between optimism (which seems forced through the)/despair. On subsequent tracks, “Come Together” celebrates the joy of unity that can be found under pulsing lights. Next, “My Best Friend” finds Annie closing the album resigned–”Thought I saw you last night smiling at me / Thought I heard your voice calling for me.” How you take the juxtaposed stances of each song will be determined by your sense of positivity. The half-full would consider “My Best Friend” a stutter-step, a small moment of weakness that quickly becomes awash. The half-empty might think of it more as the true Annie peering through the silk-screen of counterfeit happiness, a person who’s demons have caught up with her after fatiguing herself with a fake smile. Either way, it’s a “B”-plot for what is, on the surface, a spectacularly luxurious album–something to really chew on while you burn calories dancing or kissing your favorite significant other. Hold them closely, Anniemal screams, because when the dancing stops we all need to confront our own issues. Only a few of us will be this successful.