Immense pop songs, from the Cure’s half-gritty “Boys Don’t Cry” to Britney Spears’ fully bawdy “Toxic,” share a spiritedness that transcends lyricism and instrumentation and production. The closest anyone comes to even classifying that essential pop ingredient is the word hook, which only expresses what good pop music does (hooks us) without expressing how or when or why it’s done. But whatever it takes to make pop potent and pure, the Norwegian singer Annie has it.
In 1999 she debuted with a sinister dance track, “The Greatest Hit,” which slowly gained underground buzz via hip European DJs. By sampling Madonna’s sweaty “Everybody” (from her old-school 1983 debut), and punctuating the requisite falsetto with a raunchy bass-line, Annie and her producer Tore Andreas Kroknes wove together pure pop disco with early-80s punk.
But Kroknes, who had become Annie’s romantic and artistic partner, died from a heart defect a year later at age 23. Though shimmering and sugary, Annie’s 2004 debut album is shaped by the death: “Feel my heartbeat, trembling to the beat like a symphony,” she sings at the album’s most magnificent moment, evoking both Kroknes’ fatal defect and the rapture of late-night dancing.
On roiling-boil tracks like “Me Plus One” (and “Heartbeat”), the pop is as overwhelming as it should be. Yet there is a half-winking self-consciousness throughout the whole album, even in gloriously light-hearted songs like “Chewing Gum”. Here, slithery and syrupy, Annie shakes with dance-floor feminism: “Oh no! Oh no, you’ve got it all wrong. You think you’re chocolate when you’re chewing gum.”
Is it by teetering on the edge of irony that Annie maintains her grip on us? Or is it Melody, or Beat, or Character, or Sex? Her music is so irresistible that it’s hard to worry.
— Max Abelson