When I first heard Chewing Gum by Annie back in the summer of 2004, I remember thinking I’d just witnessed the next huge popstar. It was the year’s biggest earworm that convinced me to buy a very overpriced import copy of her debut album, Anniemal from HMV (luckily it was money well spent). When ‘Chewing Gum’ entered the chart at 25 I was disappointed, but it was a start. Annie revealed that Heartbeat was going to be the second single which offered me reassurance about her inevitable rise to fame, or so I thought.
Anniemal is a very close to being the perfect first album. Every song is filled with Annie’s warmth and character with hooks bursting out in every direction. ‘Heartbeat’ provides Anniemal’s highlight and gives the album its emotional centrepiece. As soon as the song begins Annie’s voice is airy and beautiful recalling peak Sarah Cracknell. She’s full of wistful nostalgia as she reminisces about meeting someone on a busy dancefloor on the opening lines, “there was a time, everybody was around and I was dancing with you”. She also hints at the loneliness you can feel in a crowd.
It takes just 30 seconds for Annie to unleash the breathtaking chorus. As ethereal backing vocals and a gorgeous shimmering synth-line appear she repeats, “feel my heartbeat drumming to the beat”. Right on cue that drumbeat appears accentuating the moving lyrics. The song is full of little production details that are vital to the overall atmosphere. She adds a cool R&B styled keyboard in the second verse.
Annie captures the bittersweet mixed emotions you can feel in the situation of making a connection with someone you’ve just met as she sings, “don’t know your name, making me ashamed to feel the way that I do”. There’s a sense of urgency as the drums change tempo indicating her heartbeat quickening. Her delivery is tinged with sadness as she ends the song with the line, “I won’t forget the greatest times I’ve had when I was dancing with you”. She perfectly encapsulates the nerves and euphoria not knowing if this feeling will be fleeting or lead to something else.
When Heartbeat was finally released at the beginning of 2005, it went in at number 50. It was left to Robyn to take an incredible heartbeat related song to the top of the charts two years later. Annie never had another top 40 hit and she didn’t become the huge star she deserved to be. Since then she’s released just more full length album (2009’s charming Don’t Stop). She’s also released several brilliant singles and EPs (2013’s A&E EP with Richard X is essential). Following her sporadic output feels like being let in on little secrets every so often.
13 years on ‘Heartbeat’ remains Annie’s masterpiece. It might just be the best three minutes of music of the 21st century.