Annie: Anniemal (Big Beat)

It’s uncertain if Nordic newbie Annie will change any of this with her debut album Anniemal, but damn, this is one delectable dance-floor delight.

There’s no reason in the world why dance music has to be insipid. An insistently booty-shakin’ rhythm and shout-along chorus shouldn’t preclude a tune and lyrics from having something more than base impulses at their core. Back in the ’70s, artists like Donna Summer and Chic understood this and decorated their disco anthems with unforgettable sonic adornments. A decade later, Madonna sometimes followed suit. But “dance pop” as a genre seldom inspires much awe or respect outside the clubs. It’s uncertain if Nordic newbie Annie will change any of this with her debut album Anniemal, but damn, this is one delectable dance-floor delight.

Anyone who’s paid attention to European charts recently will already be familiar with “Chewing Gum,” the infectious, sugary pop hit that launched Annie’s career. Filled with squiggly synth lines and a frothy vocal, the tune feels similar to Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” Annie turns the table on prowling club studs by singing: “Hey Annie, well look at you/Is that a new boy stuck on your shoe?/C’mon Annie, how is it so/You’ve always got a new bubble to blow.”

But this slightly naughty, fun-loving romp isn’t the main course here. That distinction goes to a batch of incandescent dance-floor gems anchored by “Heartbeat,” called one of the best songs of the year by several critics. Over a pulsing bass and glimmering keyboards, the sweetly wistful vocal reminisces about memorable nights out with friends, having a first dance with an alluring stranger, and getting lost in music and romantic hopes. The song gains resonance when you learn that Annie, a DJ in her native Norway, lost her boyfriend and musical collaborator to a heart ailment a few years back. “Helpless Fool for Love” is a lean, sinewy slab of dance-floor steak that’ll make most listeners helpless fools for its mesmerizing rhythm (call it MaDonna Summer).

“No Easy Love” recalls the Atlanta Rhythm Section at their prime; its fat bottom underneath a blend of airy, girlish (Kylie-like) vocals and minor-key arrangement is captivating. Then there’s the absurdly catchy title cut, with zigzagging keys and repeated “da da da’s” that demand total surrender from ears and feet alike. Annie ascends to a whole ’nuther plane with the last two tracks, though. “Come Together” (an audacious move, appropriating that title!) is about as epic as dance music ever gets. Beginning with a bit of lush Nordic melancholy, Annie’s soft, earnest voice intones, “Hey people don’t look so down/Let me play in your game/…Do what you want to do/Don’t let the world get on you.” All of a sudden, the tune launches into an absolutely dynamic, chugging groove; you can imagine a whole bar full of patrons suddenly leaping out of their chairs to dance. “If we all come together/Life is gonna be much better,” Annie concludes.

Naw, t’aint poetry, but the grooves and the production sure are (some of which is courtesy of Royksopp’s Torbjorn Brundtland). The closer, “My Best Friend,” is an ethereal, melancholy gem that could either be about remembering lost love or looking for a new one; either way, it deepens the emotional impact here significantly. Anniemal is one lithe, sure-footed beast of a record—crafty party music for today’s often-cagey audience. | Kevin Renick

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