Brian Higgins has been one of the most important figures in pop this decade.
His songwriting and production factory, Xenomania, has helped shape noughties pop —without Higgins, Girls Aloud would sound completely different.
He has honed much of Kylie Minogue's later career and is responsible for a large chunk of the output from Sugababes, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and, latterly, Pet Shop Boys.
Franz Ferdinand were working with him on their third album, but his pure pop instincts spooked them and they chickened out.
Enter Norway's Anne Lilia Berge Strand, aka Annie, whose 2004 debut album Anniemal caused a stir in both the pop and indie worlds.
Now, for her long awaited follow-up — delayed by a year due to problems with one of the majors — she has turned to Brian Higgins and he has duly sprinkled her songs with gold dust.
One song in particular — My Love is Better, a Higgins/Annie cowrite — is a playful, hugely upbeat number, boasting the sort of production alchemy that is very difficult to replicate, and packs thrills and spills into its three-minute odd runtime.
“I'll let you touch me now and then,” Annie sings, “And if you want some, I'll tell you when.”
Incidentally, Girls Aloud supplied backing vocals to the song, only to withdraw permission later on. Just as well — the track is perfect as it is.
On three of the album's 12 compositions, Higgins' pop smarts are showcased, and in Annie he has the perfect foil. In lesser hands, closing track Heaven and Hell would stray into saccharine territory.
The fingerprints of Richard X, who was heavily involved on Anniemal, are all over another slice of electro-pop brilliance, Songs Remind Me of You.
And if that wasn'tenough, Paul Epworth — the producer responsible for Bloc Party,Maximo Park and Florence and theMachine albums — is also involved.
None of this is to suggest that Annie is simply the vehicle for these talents — in an age of identikit, manufactured pop, her personality, charisma and idiosyncrasies shine through.
Burn it: My Love is Better; Songs Remind Me of You; Marie