IT'S FINALLY HERE. It should've been released in Summer 2008. But that version would've been quite different and, in truth, not as good. Evidently delays, or being totally shafted by your record label, are God's little way of saying "Must try harder, Annie."
Say what you like about Annie ("she can't really sing" crops up a lot), but the woman is nothing if not a tryer. Any other popstar's persistance to release a record around twelve people actually know about would be greeted with the kind of internet bile normally reserved for VV Brown. Yet there remains something so effortlessly Cool about Annie, something so wonderfully aloof to contemporary pop climates, that one can only applaud her desire to stagger over the finishing line long after the race, it seemed, was over. Don't Stop, then, is as much an album as it is a manifesto of self-determination.
The eery Paul Epworth-produced 'Hey Annie' kicks off proceedings: all handclaps and stamping rhythms, there's also a Party Whistle thrown into the mix, which never exactly makes a song worse. Much hoo-ha was made of Annie's decision to work with the musical machine that is Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Mini Viva etc). Only the blind-with-fervour Pop Evangelists saw such a union as a mismatch, and 'My Love is Better' still packs a punch one year on; although it goes without saying - so let's say it anyway - that it could easily be a Girls Aloud track. Still, Annie was never going to be your standard pop puppet - let's imagine Brian Higgins as the Ventriloquist - and elsewhere, she really does make her stamp on the traditional Xeno output. 'Bad Times' has a still, almost serene pathos that only Annie's lilted, Scando-speak could nail. Actually, Nicola from GA would probably do a similarly-repressed turn here, but the potential amazingness of her solo career is another post, for another day.
Therein lies the joys and the problems with Don't Stop, and Annie in general. Although a faultless collection of songs, it is a tad cut and paste: there are traces of old Annie (the wonderfully squelchy 'I Don't Like Your Band), set aside the kind of pop star Annie no doubt had ambitions to be (see the somewhat saccharine commerciality of 'Heaven and Hell'). It's an interesting paradox, and one that works, but the record is most thrilling when Annie steps away from the Xenomaniacs. 'Songs Remind Me of You' easily eclipses any of the output from the Girls-With-Synths Class of 2009, whilst 'Take You Home' is equisitely lurching and lusty.
So, after the most complicated of pregnancies, Don't Stop is a healthy little bundle of joy. Miss Annie must be truly ecstatic to finally cut the cord (we'll stop this metaphor as soon as possible). And after all that, this feels like the Big Pop record Annie needed to make, to prove that she could. But where she goes next - she's working with Fred Falke on album 3 - is truly exciting.
Because she Won't Stop, you know.