Trapped in production hell for nearly two years, Don't Stop is just that kind of balancing act of a pop album, one that dangles its legs over the precipice of radio trash but never really takes the dive. Indeed, for the first half Don't Stop is a retro DeLorean straight back into the `80s, glory days of synths, airy, reverbed vocals, and disco-fueled, John Hughes-ian odes to streaky romance. It's catchy and excellently produced, as should be expected, but the lack of spark behind songs like "Hey Annie" or the cheesy title track leave one familiar with Annie's work a bit worried. Too often the first third of Don't Stop comes off like mere outtakes of her fabulous debut Anniemal, save for the bouncy, frantic buildup of single "My Love is Better," with some textbook Franz guitar courtesy of Alex Kapranos. This is something that would immediately make these first few tracks classics on any other pop artist's album but with Annie brings up the question; has the well run dry, or was Annie just a flash-in-the-pan novelty to begin with?
Thankfully, starting with the sly kiss-off of "I Don't Like Your Band," whose grimy, subtly threatening bass line and tap-dancing synth notes create the perfect atmosphere for this double-sided tune, Annie begins to separate herself from the Max Martin pack yet again. When Annie announces "music so good / music so clear" over the most direct, driving beat on the record on "Songs Remind Me Of You", the breakup jam becomes the theme of the record - Annie taking the most basis tenets of pop, music that can hardly be called revolutionary in any sense of the word ("Songs Remind Me Of You," for example, is vintage Kylie Minogue done thrice as good as any recent Minogue song), and making it her own. A trippy, cluttered beat calls to mind a bright-toned horror movie on the haunting ballad "Marie Cherie," while the slow, sexual stomp of "Take You Home" turns things in a whole new direction altogether. Aside from the misguided, blunt metaphor of "The Breakfast Song" (hint: it's not about breakfast), in fact, the remainder of Don't Stop is a manual's guide to effortlessly effective, genuine pop. From the what-if-Franz-Ferdinand-was-fronted-by-Annie tune "Loco" to ballad "When The Night," which is rescued from unbearable amounts of sap by Annie's endearingly charming accent and honest vocals, Don't Stop is the kind of album that walks that aforementioned balance perfectly.
It's the kind of balance embodied in closer "Heaven and Hell," where a sunny chorus and a thoroughly well orchestrated array of atmospheric synths and effervescent drums contrast seamlessly with Annie's sprightly vocals and the song's love-and-hate lyrical matter. It's the kind of frothy, flawless pop song that makes you wonder what's in the water over in Norway, and, more importantly, where can we get more of it over on this side of the pond? Sustaining a career in pop music has never been about evolving one's sound, but rather maintaining the relevance needed to connect to millions of listeners in a time when pop culture is constantly shifting. With Anniemal and now Don't Stop, Annie makes a great case for best pop artist of a new generation, one who knows how to salvage the trash of artists past in order to make a new brand of bubbly, electro-pop confectionary that, thankfully, doesn't rot your teeth right out.