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Poppy - 'I Disagree' Album Review


1. Concrete

2. I Disagree


4. Anything Like Me

5. Fill The Crown

6. Nothing I Need

7. Sit / Stay

8. Bite Your Teeth

9. Sick of the Sun

10. Don’t Go Outside

What are the first things that pop into your mind when you consider the term ‘Heavy Metal’? If you’re like most people, you probably picture big hairy men that are covered in tattoos and are fond of leather and guitars, right? Now that you’ve got that image in your head, what would you consider to be its polar opposite? Yep, pop music. While there’s no denying the flexibility of Metal as a genre and the fact that there’s plenty of evidence of it being successfully infused with everything from Folk to Dance and even Polka, the one genre that it’s never played nicely with has been Pop music, for Pop is and always has been its arch enemy and that’s the end of it. I mean, who in Beelzebub’s name would dare to fuse them together?!

The past five years or so have seen a subtle shift in the Metal genre that has seen a small core of artists pushing it in interesting new directions, with the most obvious and polarising of these bands being the wonderful Babymetal, whose meteoric rise to fame tends to split Metalheads into two groups; those who like them and those who don’t. There are several reasons for this, with the most prominent being that they sing primarily in their native tongue and that their music is arguably a heady fusion of Metal and J-Pop; something that many western ears find difficult to attune to, and for those in the group that find it difficult to love Babymetal, there’s a new kid on the block. Her name is Poppy, and she’s about to ask Su-Metal and Moa-Metal to hold her beer.

Poppy, you see, does not fit the blueprint of a typical Rock star. Purely from an aesthetic viewpoint, she looks like a model, wears haute couture gear and exudes the sort of image that’s more Lady Gaga than it is Alissa White-Gluz or Cristina Scabbia. Her rise to fame has been frankly rather bizarre, as she started off singing cover versions of songs on YouTube in 2012, and soon met up with musician and director Titanic Sinclair in 2014, who helped to create the Poppy Persona. Her first brush with fame occurred after she and Titanic released a series of surreal videos that included a repeated a loop of her saying ‘I’m Poppy’ for ten minutes and another in which she did nothing but eat cotton candy, which proved to be a big hit on the video sharing platform. The intention was always for her to make music though and, under the guidance of Sinclair, she released her first album ‘Poppy.Computer’ in 2015, which was a nauseatingly happy and upbeat mainstream Pop album, but there were hints even then of something darker hiding behind the bubblegum Pop facade. There was big tonal shift when she released her second album ‘Am I A Girl?’ in 2018, because while it still had its mainstream influence it was an altogether more mature Synth-Pop affair and there were portents of things to come as its last three tracks swung wildly into a much heavier sound, with her coyly saying ‘ooooh, heavyyy’ as the chugging riffs and drums gatecrashed the Synth-Pop party. She parted ways with Titanic Sinclair acrimoniously in 2019, citing allegations that he had been psychologically abusive towards her and had narcissistic tendencies. She continued with the abstract and surreal videos on YouTube however, and they become notably darker in tone before she released a track called ‘Scary Mask’ in mid-2019 with Metal band Fever 333, which hinted that she was going to continue on a path to heavier music.

This of course brings up up to date with the release of ‘I Disagree’ on the 10th of January through Sumerian records (yep, a bona fide Metal label), so let’s dig in and see what makes it tick. The album kicks off with ‘Concrete’, which is without doubt one of the most surprisingly heavy, random and chaotic songs I’ve ever heard. The quietly spoken opening lyrics ‘Bury me six feet deep / Cover me in concrete / Turn me into a street’ are far darker than anything from her up until this point, and while you might be forgiven for expecting the intro to be followed by something dark but still ostensibly mainstream-sounding, it slaps you in the jaw by breaking into a buzzsaw guitar riff and blast beats. Even more bizarre than that is how it swings from that into a dayglo happy-sounding chorus with Thrash drumming that’s offset by comically dark lyrics (“Chewy chewy / Yummy yummy yummy / Sharp and pointy / Yummy yummy yummy / Break me off a piece of that tasty treat / Sugar in my teeth / Demons in my dreams / Watch me while I sleep for eternity”), and leaves you reeling as you wonder what on earth is happening. After the frenzied pace of the chorus, the song slows to a funereal pace with colossally heavy guitars before sliding into a clean and bright-sounding vocal harmony section, and continues to ping-pong back and forth between crushingly heavy and light for the remainder of the song. Towards its end, it bursts into a bright-sounding Pop section and is brought to a close by a wonderfully Brian May-esque guitar flourish. As far as opening tracks go, this is probably about as bonkers as they can get - but in spite of this, the song weirdly works really well and shows that Poppy is not afraid to mix things up when it comes to genres.

Just in case you were thinking that the heaviness of the first track was nothing more than a gimmick, the title track ‘I Disagree’ comes along to poke you in the ribs and say that no, this is how Poppy insists that things are going to be. It begins with her quietly whispering “Watashi wa anata ni doi shimasen” (which translates from Japanese into “I do not agree with you”) before bursting into a chunky riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on any number of albums from Metal’s established heroes. The first verse slides comfortably from the heaviness of the opening into a Hip-Hop-ish beat with her speaking softly “I disagree everything you believe is a tragedy / I disagree with the way you keep preaching insanity / I disagree with all of the reasons you're mad at me / I disagree that everything in your life is a tragedy”, and I’d give you warning in advance that the ensuing chorus is unspeakably catchy, contains a glorious riff, and that it will get stuck in your head for days. It’s interesting to guess at the meaning behind the lyrics in the chorus (“Down / Let it all burn down / Burn it to the ground / We'll be safe and sound / When it all burns down”), but I’m guessing that they’re aimed squarely at Titanic Sinclair and that this song is all about Poppy drawing a metaphorical line in the sand, marking a clean break from him and a new beginning for her.

If you haven’t fallen hook, line and sink in love with Poppy by this point, the following track ‘BLOODMONEY’ is so deliciously intense that it's almost impossible to resist. It starts quietly with her singing “Why do you believe that everyone is watching? / What do you believe?”, but it quickly slides into a beautifully distorted and pulsing Electro-Industrial beat and her shouting “Keep telling yourself that you've been playing nice / And go beg for forgiveness from Jesus the Christ” in a Hip-Hop style before crashing into a wall of twisted Electro-Industrial distortion that Trent Reznor would be proud of. There’s what feels like another painful barb levelled at Sinclair with the lyrics “Your soul can't be saved for all the sins you've ignored / And the devil is well aware he is adored / Never forget the excess of a man ‘cause the grabbing hands always grab what they can” (ouch) and later on, there’s an absolutely beautiful guitar solo before the song ends quietly with her singing “What do you believe when no one is around?”. It’s an absolute barnstormer of a track.

Next up is the track ‘Anything Like Me’, which lulls you into thinking that it’s going to be something altogether more gentle when it starts with her almost whispering “I feel her heart beating in me / Get her out of me”, but it builds into a throbbing, pulsing Industrial beat with a low-slung chunky riff and distorted percussion that relentlessly drives the track along. There are signs that Poppy is graced with admirable songwriting chops (“Sorry for what I've become / Because I'm becoming someone / Your hand on my neck, you call up the press / Die for the attention / You pray for a reaction / I'll stop when it's no more fun / If this is the start, then let's see how far you're gonna take this one), and the song has a brilliant quiet/loud/quiet aesthetic to it as it jumps between the quietness of the almost whispered opening lyrics and her screaming “You shouldn’t be anything like me”.

After the genre-hopping insanity of the first four tracks, 'Fill The Crown' is the first track to start-off sounding somewhat more conventional as it starts with a plucked bass guitar and synths, with Poppy singing happily “You can be anyone you want to be / You can be free” but, as you may have come to expect after reading up to this point, it’s not long before it switches direction completely and launches into a hulking riff and a stomping drumbeat for its first verse. Poppy’s voice is joined by Marilyn Manson-esque male vocals (it’s not him though) and it’s much darker lyrically (“Poison the children / No peace of mind / Poison the family / Make the children cry / Poison the fountain / Empty your mind / Follow the leader / The leader is blind”). It slides between the clean-sounding Electro-Pop of its opening and the heavy Industrial stomp of the verses for the remainder of its time, and turns out to be another absolute cracker.

After that is ‘Nothing I Need’, which is one of only two tracks on the album that falls squarely into a far more Synth-Pop sound and is completely devoid of any heavy elements - which is not a bad thing at all as it’s always good to break up a heavy album with a couple of lighter tracks. It’s a beautifully dreamy number with lush synths and an almost trip-hoppy feel to it, in which Poppy sings about how material objects are inconsequential to her happiness. In comparison to the majority of the rest of the songs on the album, it’s more conventional in its structure but that doesn’t make it feel out of place. In fact, it feels like it’s a strut that holds it all together.

Following from that is ‘Sit / Stay’ which sees Poppy returning to the heaviness of the earlier tracks, and this one features an interestingly syncopated dubstep-like beat that’s accompanied by thundering bass and grungy guitars as she sings “Every time you fall back down / Sit and stay, lie on the ground / Do what you've been, what you've been told / Sit, stay, lie down”, which once again seems to be about the control that her former producer Titanic Sinclair imposed on her. It’s another solid track with the quiet/loud formula present and correct as it breaks into quiet synth-driven sections between the brash distortion of the verses. Yep, it’s yet another good’un.

When the next track ‘Bite Your Own Teeth’ begins with rattling snares and extremely heavy guitars, you know it’s going to be something rather special. In fact, it’s the heaviest track on the album and sounds absolutely fucking fantastic. The title of the track refers to a quote by Alan Watt; “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth”, but the track is actually very light on lyrics and lets the music do most of the talking! It’s hard to believe that only two years prior to this, Poppy was singing Pop songs about fashion and doing her nails, but the Metal flows so strong on this track that it completely silences any naysayers who cast doubts over her conviction to her new direction. Of course, it breaks into light melody sections in amongst the heaviness and at the half-way mark it shuts completely down into a gentle harmonic vocal section before breaking into the sort of dense riffage you’d expect from a seasoned Doom band and it then slows to a crawl as the song ends on a discordant funereal march and howling feedback. The only thing that disappoints me about this song is that it’s far too short - I’d have loved it to have gone on for at least a couple of more minutes.

We’re onto the final last two tracks with ‘Sick Of The Sun’, which is a laid-back Electro-Acoustic track that gives your ears a rest after the manic heaviness of the proceeding track. There’s a gorgeous sumptuousness to this song, with Poppy’s voice really sounding wonderful on it, and there are some beautifully layered vocals and a melody in its chorus that’s irresistibly catchy. Despite it being far less heavy than the majority of the tracks on the album, it holds its own because it’s so well executed and actually turns out to be one of my favourites.

The final track ‘Don’t Go Outside’ starts off with an acoustic guitar and Poppy’s gentle vocals, and it’s another slow, dreamy Electro-Pop number for the majority of its first half. Lyrically, it’s actually pretty morose, with her singing “The TV says you're out of time / Suck the fear in through your eyes / Everyone is bland and blind / Don't go outside’ in its chorus. It doesn’t, of course, stick to a conventional format as it breaks grand-sounding guitar flourishes between the quiet bits and features a gloriously over-the-top solo at the half way mark. At six minutes long, it’s the longest track on the album, and the last half of it is dedicated to a brilliantly realised medley of ‘I Disagree’, ‘Concrete’ and ‘Fill The Crown’ that curiously provokes an odd emotional reaction from me every time I hear it. It’s a stunning track and proves to be the perfect way to end the album as it makes it feel like it really is something special.

So… Wow, how the heck do I wrap this up, then? Well, I have to say that it’s difficult to not feel completely bowled over by this album because it actually feels historically significant in a sense, because while it would be so easy to dismiss Poppy’s radical change in direction out of hand, I don’t think there’s ever been an artist who has made the transition from Pop to Metal with such apparent ease and conviction. ‘I Disagree’ is a monumental achievement because not only has Poppy managed to completely reinvent herself, she’s made an album that feels iconic in the process. There’s more than one song on the album that meticulously grafts together several genres over the course of a two-to-three minute running time as if it’s no problem at all, but in spite of that the album ends up being a cohesive, exciting and compelling listen on the whole that leaves me begging to know what Poppy is going to do next, and whether she’s going to stick with this sound or switch to something else entirely.

Even though this is Poppy’s third album, it actually feels like her first now that she’s free to make the sort of music that she’d rather have been making right from the start, so the recording process for it must have been an incredibly cathartic thing for her to experience. It would have been easy for an album that weaves together so many genres to be a complete mess, but the overall metallic edge to this one is so keen that it cuts through any doubt that her intentions on stepping over from the Pop world to the Metal world are nothing but genuine. There will always be the purists and the naysayers who will never embrace her unique take on Metal as a genre, but I actually think that what we’re witnessing here is the birth (or rebirth) of an artist who might just be instrumental in shaping its future.

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Review - Craig Henderson

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