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Don't Stop Iain Moffat , October 19th, 2009 09:23

The charts may have gone some way toward pulling themselves out of the treacherous trough in which they found themselves through much of 2008, but it'd still be safe to say that some of the year's most manic pop thrills have come from far outside the reach of the top 75. Think, if you will, of the aching poignancy of Kleerup's 'Longing For Lullabies', the radical recontextualisation of Milow's take on 'Ayo Technology', even the sledgehammer audacity of the Blackout Crew's 'Dialled'. With this in mind, it seems somewhat canny for Annie to return, since she's acted as both inventrix and poster girl of the needn't-be-popular pop movement.

Bizarrely — and faintly famously — Don't Stop has had more false dawns on the release schedules than anything in recent memory save Chinese Democracy. If this troubled gestation suggests a hesitant finished product, think again; in fact it's difficult to imagine a more immaculately-conceived and immediately compelling record. In truth, the delay has probably been the most fortuitous thing that's ever happened to her. OK, so the vocals remain a trifle on the slender side (although this often has the happy side effect of placing her in Sarah Cracknell territory, most notably on 'Bad Times') and there's the occasional moment when some of her ideas threaten not to work. But even then she shows a remarkable knack for rewarding a little patience — 'The Breakfast Song', for example, feels uncommonly slight to begin with, but soon compresses a 'Stop Making Sense'-like instrumental expansion into what becomes a thoroughly vivid threeish minutes. Opener 'Hey Annie' may appear to be a nervily equivocal statement of intent, but hurtles headlong into an astounding array of acieed! that leaves its sparkle assured by the halfway point.

What's more, there are tracks aplenty here that would comfortably merit a warm public embrace in the arms of a Girls Aloud (and that Annie, frankly, does right not to squander on lesser lights). 'Loco' careers along like the motorbikes of the 'Wake Me Up' video, only with with glitterballs in the headlights; the title track draws its drummed insistence from 'Vogue' but flits along in the chorus fuelled by a particularly nimble techno rainstorm that comes to dominate proceedings in a manner excitingly close to, well, any of the 90s' big-in-clubs-AND-festivals royalty; and 'Heaven And Hell' is glorious girl-group homagery, clearly done up in all its finery. That's not strictly just a musical comparison, either — it was always Annie's knowing New Pop sensibilities that set her apart in an age when CD:UK and TOTP were beginning to drown, and it's them, married to a steely sense of commitment, that shine through repeatedly here.

So, structurally and in terms of performance, we get the same attention to detail in the refined, chanson-inflected vignette 'Marie Cherie' as in the far Horn-ier twirly starbursts of what turns out to be a thoroughly 2009-sounding 'Songs Remind Me Of You', which also contains some of the numerous callbacks to her status as the great overlooked. This could be tiresome, not to mention solipsistic, were it not parlayed with oceans of cheek and charm, so it helps enormously that 'My Love Is Better' takes its lyrical cues from, of all the unlikely sources, Mclusky's 'To Hell With Good Intentions'. 'I Don't Like Your Band', meanwhile, is bracingly scathing; plus it manages not only to mention Moroder but also to allude to 'I Feel Love'. So yes: Don't Stop might be wilfully critic-friendly, but it's also out'n'out music for the masses; probably still unlikely to connect with a populace happy to make do with Akon and Jason Mraz, obviously, but an absolute triumph in every other sense.