the key moment is on “Helpless For Love”. These are the opening lines:

I saw you
It was a rainy day in May or June
I can’t help it, god you looked so fine
I just had to make you mine all mine

No, this isn’t a Sarah Connor record.

I cannot eat nor sleep nor hard to breathe
You made my love so easy A-B-C
Twist my mind around and 1-2-3

Then it hits the chorus, and Annie opens it with this immense, soaring “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh” that comes from out of nowhere, cascading into ”When he walks when he talks when moves makes me feel I’m a fool for love”, and at that precise moment you will forgive her anything. It is a moment, such a moment, the kind of thing that comes along only once in a blue moon (or at least feels like it does). It’s the tone, the way in which it is either soaring or falling, you can’t actually tell. Annie’s not got a lot of volume or power on her voice, but she can express herself like nobody’s business. She’s got this “touch”, I suppose you could call it, turning what modern pop would view as a major disadvantage into an incredible plus. Anniemal is a warm album, a comforting album, a lovable album, an adorable album, a living, breathing, human album.

“Intro” sets out the stall, as she delivers a spoken word introduction amid dark swirly electro strings and glockenspiel—“In the jungle, it grew a tree, where all the animals could be… Ssshh! Let’s start the record!” It goes straight into ‘Chewing Gum’, which is exactly as much fun as everyone says it is, except this new positioning at the start of the album somehow gives it even more vibrancy, as an introduction to our heroine—“Hey Annie! Well, look at you! Is that a new boy stuck on your shoe?” “Oh NO, oh no, you got it all wrong—you think you’re chocolate but you’re chew-ing GUM! Oh NO!” While it’s stretching things to suggest that Violet Beauregarde is in any kind of iconic figure, she got further round the factory than Augustus Gloop, which must count for something. It’s fantastic, Annie skipping carefree through the thrusting “uh-AH!” beats, mockingly declaring “I don’t want to settle down, I just wanna have fun—I don’t want to settle down, I just wanna chew gum!”

“Me Plus One” is a tale of sulky pop princesses trying to be like the Chewing Gum queen and getting smashed on the rocks, and is also rammed to the gunwales with showstoppers: the “Ooh, wooh-ooh” of the intro, Annie’s sing-song delivery of the verses—“She didn’t make Italia Conti*, didn’t get that TV show, then the nice man said he’d help her with a new portfolio…” before death-staring the pre-chorus—”Mrs B, Mrs E, Mrs A-U-T, Mrs I, Mrs F-U-L, I’m gonna reach the top, I ain’t ever gonna stop and I’m sure gonna ring your bell!” PING! “Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs F-F-I, Mrs C, Mrs U-L-T, if ever there’s a girl that can rock your world then that girl sure iss me- RIGHT!” And then the chorus itself, of which I can but say that no-one, not even Sir Jimmy Saville himself, has ever said “Top Of The Pops!” better, and in all probability no-one ever will.

“My Heartbeat”: Annie discovers drums. The drums are loud and pounding, Annie is ethereal and dreaming. Guitars and bass funk it tight, like the Gang Of Four suddenly gone epic ballad style, tightening up, holding rhythm and dancing in the background as she rises, every available inch filled with sound, “I’m Not In Love” voices engulf her as the drums go that bit too fast, but she’s going, going—gone—“Feel my heartbeat, drowwwwning to the beat, in the symphony…” And in the second verse, the guitar and the bass just get louder, more intense, as the drums grow harder, the song gets faster, as we fly into the second chorus, and then suddenly it just explodes—“FEEL my heart beat! FEEL my heart beat! FEEL my heart beat now, somehow… There was a time, everybody was around and I was dancing with you. Don’t know your name, making me ashamed to feel the way that I do. The lights went out, couldn’t be without you, it was the place to be. I won’t forget, greatest times ahead when I was dancing with you…”

The rest of the album then has to live up to those songs, and initially it doesn’t quite seem to. One could dismiss “Anniemal”, “No Easy Love” and “Happy Without You” as not being particularly hooky or catchy, which they aren’t, really. But at the same time, they’re hard to disagree with, the first two in particular just being of such easy charm, so very listenable—probably not anyone’s favourites off the album, but good, nice, enjoyable songs to sit and smile along with. “Happy Without You” is a bit harder to justify, though. A slightly dragging put-down track, the whole thing sounding a bit like a Warp off-cut or some such.**

It all comes right in the end, though. At the start of “Come Together”, she’s alone, looking straight at the camera. “Look into yourself… you will know, who you are… Listen what I have to say, and you will be OK—come togetherrrr!!!” at which the switch marked disco gets flipped and proceeds to run for the next six minutes, Annie coming in and out every now and then: “Come together, everyone all feeling fine, people smiling, sunny shine… after rain, comes the, sun…” A euphoric feeling prevails. There are cowbells. Two minutes from the end, the breakdown, the tune dissolves amidst synth crashes and stabs. One minute from the end: “If we all come together, life is gonna be much better. If we all come together, this is gonna last forever.” Repeat to fade.

That’s where you’d think it would end, but there’s an encore: “My Best Friend”, a song for her deceased boyfriend and inspiration for the album, Norwegian DJ Erot. “Thought I saw you last night, looking at me. Thought I heard your voice calling for me”. There are no hooks, really, just Annie and a couple of drum machines, an unchanging melody, a chorus where Annie asks, distractedly, “My best friend, where are you?” The words aren’t profound, the song is, tailing off into the sound of the sea: “there’s always someone out there…” Right at the end, right where it matters, right after you’d expect it to have ended, and right where you’d most notice it.

All we ask is for you to come with no expectations—given the amount of buzz about this album, that’s going to be very difficult, obviously, but give it a try. If you come expecting a great album full of hit singles, you won’t get it. If you come with an open mind, what will greet you is the opening chapter of a tale about a girl living through music, remembering through music, exploring her art and herself, starting out to create something special and different. Despite how it feels sometimes, Annie is not the property of the blogosphere, the hipster scenes, the underground proper pop brigade or whatever. The reason that everyone fell for her in the first place is because she’s herself. And her music reflects that. Regardless of the occasional moments when it doesn’t quite come off, Anniemal is an album whose overall feeling is one of such warmth and love that it seems only natural to reciprocate.

*Legendary London stage school/twat farm.
**Yes, this’ll probably be my favourite song off the album by next week.

Reviewed by: William B. Swygart
Reviewed on: 2004-10-25
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