“A&R” EP – Annie

4 stars (out of 5)

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A&R EPAnnie is the absolute embodiment of a cult artist but also a bit of an oxymoron, she shows few signs of craving that big crossover pop smash although she appears to be the most archetypal of pop stars, but then not quite. Annie has always retained an awkwardness and appears as an introverted figure; with no massive ego and zero tabloid splashes, this is not the kind of attitude that will get you that support slot on the next Katy Perry stadium tour.  This EP is not going to change that and an assumption that this was never one of Annie’s main objectives in the first place would not be naïve.

Like fellow swede Robyn before her, Annie isn’t releasing an album this time round, apparently there will be three EP’s this year, each made with a different producer/come collaborator (“Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts”, which suddenly appeared as a lone single earlier this year, was co-produced by Girls Aloud masterminds Xenomania) and the first is with anarchic pop producer and neglected genius, Richard X (the R in the title). Richard X is to Annie as Timberland once was to Missy around the turn of the last decade, the relationship goes beyond that of muse and maestro, an equal partnership that brings out the best in each artist derived from a comfort factor and desire to innovate.

These are songs about relationships with boys, or should I say men, Annie is in her thirties after all. The third track, and maybe the most pure pop moment here, is a cartoony, Casio keyboard style bleeped love letter addressed to one man in particular. “Ralph Macchio”, the actor best known for his role as the Karate Kid, is Annie’s new crush and the humour that is a trademark of Richard and Annie’s previous work is in intact and resplendent (2004’s “Me Plus One” is famously about Geri Halliwell pleading with Richard X to work with her and the cut-price diva consequences of him refusing). “Invisible”, with its Funky Drummer sample and acid squiggles, make it the most textured and interesting track the duo have come up with to date. A duet with herself, Annie’s voice is slowed down for a verse as she acts out the part of the rotten lover and then answers herself with a Boo style rap; it goes hard and is fantastic.

Hold On” is possibly the standout song; it’s certainly the most self-assured and has some lovely, intricate musical details from Richard X (listen out for the brief, clipped steel drum sample right at the end) and a mid-tempo groove that manages to reference The Rah Band, “Break 4 Love” and St Etienne while Annie’s delicate vocals float above the whole thing beautifully. “Mixed Emotions” is sad, minor key verse major key chorus disco house which doesn’t make its presence felt as strongly as the other three tracks and “Back Together”, a co-write with Sally Shapiro obsessive (it shows) Little Boots, is straight-up pop house from 1991 although many will be too blind to see it.

Annie fans will be happy then, her and Richard X have turned their obsessive musical radar to the dance (and chart) music of the early 1990’s and particularly with “Invisible” and “Holding On”, have created tracks that would have doubtlessly appeared on The Chart Show, the frustrating but loved music video show that ran throughout the decade. These songs are neither big or stupid enough to make that kind of mainstream impact now but the world is a different place, one where Annie can  get her smart and fun tunes out to her dedicated demographic and still remain pop’s best kept secret. Her choice.