Annie-itis and Some Thoughts on Year-End Lists

Check it out: my numbers have gone up. I started out averaging about 6-8 readers a day and somehow, I’ve managed to get up above 20 readers a day in the last couple of months. That’s not shit for other blogs, I’m sure, but it fills me with the warm-and-fuzzies. Much gratitude to the folks who’ve found something fun to read here over the last year and a half. And I want to ask a question of those readers who have been around for a while (new readers can attempt to answer this question too, but it helps if you’ve read several posts). What are the odds, based on your reading, that I will like an album laden with synthesizers, programmed drums, and chirping girlie vocals? I think we can all agree that the odds are extremely long that I will enjoy such an album. Extremely.

The thing is: I think I have some sort of infection (let’s call it Annie-itis), and I think it was caused by Annie’s Don’t Stop album. It has wormed its way into my brain and is stuffing my synaptic clefts with sugary pop songs – if their is a musical equivalent to diabetes, I’m going to get it for sure. And I should fucking hate this album. As an experiment, my second time through, I tried to hate this album. I can’t do it.

Maybe I shouldn’t hate this album. I’ve never disliked good pop (like the Beatles and even Michael Jackson’s Thriller album – astute listeners have been pretending that Jackson died after making that album and experienced no great shock this summer. It’s been a real time saver for me), but I do hate bad pop and our culture is inundated with really awful pop. Now, a lot of pop (even some of the good stuff) can still be lyrically dumb but it usually features a melodic hook that pulls your brain out through your nose and replaces it with sugar, sunshine, and orgasms. These days, a lot of pop is reliant on pre-progammed/sequenced music and beats. Of course, there are exceptions, like the New Pornographers who still play pop with actual instruments. But because the technology is so readily available, it’s now easier than ever before to make a really shitty pop record (“buy yourself a sequencer/ and let the games begin,” Annie sings on “I Don’t Like Your Band”).

My first trip through Don’t Stop was a sugary haze; I rode the first six tracks all the way to Heaven. To quote the late Captain Murphy, it was “like a koala bear crapped a rainbow in my brain.” Subsequent trips through the album have had similar, if diminishing, results. Don’t Stop definitely falls off toward the end, but it’s still better than, say, anything Chris Brown can muster. Throughout, Annie displays an uncanny ability to knock out a memorable, danceable pop tune. Even her bad songs (and there are a few here – “The Breakfast Song” is the most offensive to my ears) are still catchy, and that gives the listener some encouragement to wade through them to get to the good stuff. Because Annie’s good stuff is fucking perfect, as pop music goes. “Hey, Annie” opens the album gloriously and the first half of the album is amazing and unrelenting, right up to “Marie Cherie,” which begins its slow decline. The album never really makes it to Awfultown, but it’s definitely loitering around Mediocreville by the time “Heaven and Hell” closes things up.

And maybe what really hamstrings Don’t Stop is the fact that Annie’s good stuff is so good. Songs like “The Breakfast Song” and “Heaven and Hell” sound all the worse for sitting next to songs like the title track and “I Don’t Like Your Band” (which may be the year’s most perfect pop tune).” I’m not suggesting Annie should repeat herself (a trap many pop artists fall into), but she’s definitely at her best when the tempo is up and she’s being playful.

Apparently, a copy of Don’t Stop leaked last year – when the album was originally supposed to be released – that had a different track listing. This blog offers a correction to the final version of Don’t Stop and it suggests to me that the dropped tracks might indeed be worth checking out (which would mean obtaining them through less-than-legal means. Bollocks! doesn’t officially encourage stealing from anyone except for EMI. Fuck those clowns), especially if they are a little less of a slog than “Marie Cherie”, which is (unsurprisingly) the longest track on the album. Other down-tempo tunes on Don’t Stop work just fine (“Take You Home,” which immediately follows “Marie Cherie,” is excellent. Best line: “I don’t love you/ I want to take you home”), so it’s not that Annie can’t pull off slower tunes. Even “When the Night” has its merits, except that it’s followed by “Heaven and Hell,” which is an aimless and unfitting closer to such a sumptuous pop feast.

Overall, though, Don’t Stop is still a must-have for fans of dancey pop music. Even without the dropped tracks, you can improve the disc by skipping “Marie Cherie” and stopping the album after “When the Night”, leaving you with ten songs that range from good to superb.

Well, kids, I’m off to Seattle tomorrow morning to celebrate the birth of my good buddy Jesus with my future in-laws. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be updating much between now and the 28th, but I’ll probably cough up some year-end listy goodness upon my return, for those who are interested in that sort of thing. Year-end lists are always arbitrary so I’ll be calling my list(s) “my favorite” whatevers of 2009. I don’t presume (despite accusations to the contrary) to know the absolute best of anything. Music is a subjective art form so trying to pretend there are objective criteria for ranking albums is a fool’s errand. There are lots of albums from this year that I have listened to and not reviewed (early trips through Lucero’s 1372 Overton Park are proving fruitful), but I’ll get to ’em eventually, I promise. If you like to list stuff, feel free to post a comment with your favorite few albums from the year (I’m probably going to do 13 albums because 13 is a nice arbitrary number and I feel it suits the arbitrary nature of the exercise). Whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope they’re merry/joyous/alcohol-fueled.  So Bollocks! to all and to all, a good drink.

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