Any definition of "indie" in 2009 has to make room for the mainstream pop sound of Norway's Annie. She elbowed her way into that space with 2004's Anniemal, a debut that demanded critical scrutiny by deftly working within a pop-chart palette. Its long-delayed follow-up has taken years of Wilco-esque major label feuding and a few rounds of fussy tracklist rearranging to work its way to release on Annie's personal imprint. Since no one could dare accuse her of being an input-less pop puppet, she takes the blame as the darker Don't Stop has trouble starting. Its first few tracks lack a giant world-breaking hook. "My Love is Better" offers fine disses with a bit of bounce, but the chorus, now missing collaborators Girls Aloud, feels thin. "Bad Times" is gorgeous, but more nuance than knockout. It's not until recent addition, "I Don't Like Your Band," that the earworms finally rain down. Annie's easy to root for against the retro rocker she mocks, but it's flawed as a thrown-down gauntlet. Giorgio Moroder namechecks are record-nerd catnip, and channeling Donna Summer with a mock-comforting, "I feel bad, I feel bad, I feeeeeeel bad..." is most amusing. But that's just a different well-trod nostalgia, right? The propulsive, melancholic futurism of "Song Reminds Me of You" makes a much better case for itself.
The album's back stretch benefits from more varied sounds. "Marie Cherie" marries its glitchy beat to swooning strings, ending up at something like a post-millenial Serge Gainsbourg composition. "The Breakfast Song" is a delightfully goofy left turn, sounding like M.I.A. writing a morning-time jam for Yo Gabba Gabba! And by the time we get to the sweet Saint Etienne twee of closing "Heaven and Hell," the record's flat start is forgiven. But man, with "I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me" stranded on a bonus disc and the slam dunk Stacey Q cover "Two of Hearts" missing entirely, it's hard not to imagine how stacked this record should have been. "Pop" usually just means "immediate." Don't Stop feels slightly overthunk.