Sunday, August 5, 2012

Annie: Anniemal (2004)


To a great degree, this record hangs on a tragedy: the death of this Norwegian pop singer's collaborator and boyfriend Tore Kroknes. The pair had begun recording as a lark in the late '90s; Annie finished the project in tribute to him. This explains why it ends up sounding like a capturing of fun, impulsive artistry stunted by a sense of labored obligation. Because as much as Annie has been embraced by the alternative press, her presentation of basic dancefloor ideas is only slightly off-kilter. And that's fine, we love this sort of music, but we can't ignore a certain absence of spontaneity here, a weak self-consciousness that stems, really, from its being a blatant grab bag of era-defiant dance music influences.

And for the passionate discophile or electro-pop aficionado, this can prove reductive, because we know that the Tom Tom Club boy-crazy romp "Chewing Gum" reaches out to us from a different universe from the early '90s hi-NRG drama of "Always Too Late," the catchy but superficial bubblegum of "Me Plus One," the nondescript gym music of the title cut, the made-for-The-Limited trip hop of "No Easy Love" (her best track), the generic Madonnaisms and party disco of "Greatest Hit," even the R&B slowjam that sets us off into the night on "My Best Friend." The collision of these things, none of them seeming terribly convicted and all rather off the cuff, is awkward.

The songwriting does little to mask these issues and often meanders dreadfully despite promising moments. Many of these hooks are from the Wings/ABBA universe of music that burrows its way into your skull as shamelessly as possible with a headache-inducing lack of substance. These already busy songs could do without diversions like that "oh no, oh no, you got it all wrong" on the too-long-and-facile "Chewing Gum," that Mike Love-like nursery rhyme chant "if there's ever a girl that can rock your world then that girl sure is me" on "Me Plus One," the mismatched baroque chorus of the improbably shiny Björk allusion "Helpless Fool for Love," and oh, that simply painful "My best friend, where are you? Tell me, where are you?"

Only rarely, however, is Annie's work here devoid of appeal. (The two complete misfires are the awful, badly sung "Happy Without You" and the endless 1986-vintage 12" single soundalike "Come Together") The weaker cuts still might boast rousing beats or splendid towers of vocals, and "No Easy Love" is a surprisingly stylish wonder. But except for "Greatest Hit," the melodies seem lazy; the instrumentation is often better or more interesting than the songs or the singing, and this just isn't the type of carefree party it passionately wishes to be. You've heard of record-collector rock? This is record-collector dance music, something I didn't even know was possible.

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