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With Poppy recently sharing they’ll no longer be working with well-documented piece of shit, Titanic Sinclair – an announcement that was one of two times the artist has broken character (the first being their initial defense of Titanic) – I’m more than willing to give this genre-bending pop-singer a proper chance now. Because first off, fuck that creep, and secondly, the company one keeps says a lot about their character, whether they make music or not.
After seeing Poppy at Good Things 2019, any hopes that I had for this latest effort to be good were basically dashed. Zero lighting at an open-air festival with no stage production during the middle of an overcast day meant that all that was left to soak up was the music. And live in the flesh, these intentionally weird and messy tunes don’t hold up very well. It all fell extremely flat. Yet that’s a live show, and we’re here for a record. In all fairness, ‘I Disagree‘ isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. Which is an incredibly loaded statement, so let’s go track by track and get into it.
On each new release, Poppy has grown more “metal” sounding, and ‘I Disagree‘ is no different. It sees the YouTube phenomenon/cult leader taking that next step, making for the heaviest, most varied Poppy release. All kicking off with the wailing sirens of opening number, ‘Concrete.’ ‘Concrete‘ is the ethos of Poppy: taking generally innocent, childlike-bliss and merging it with disturbing tones and dark lyrical imagery. The clapping and “Poppy!” chants heard in this one are insanely contrived, as is its whole genre-mashing. The bubbly pop vocals, acoustic guitars and melodic moments are super saccharine, clearly intended to just contrast the breakdowns, hectic guitar runs, (uncredited) screams, and the galloping metal drum patterns. If I’m ever searching for this kind of metal and pop hybrid, I’d sooner throw on my go-to Babymetal tunes before I even think about hitting play on a Poppy track, or least any number of other Idol-metal acts like Broken By The Scream. ‘Concrete‘ will be your litmus test for this album and whether you’ll want to follow it all the way to the end or just tap out early.
‘I Disagree‘ kicks off with repeating Japanese phrases, in English reading “I disagree with you,” before the track erupts. The trap-style interchanging with muted guitar chugs and mid-paced, stomping open-hi-hat beats makes for a slower, slightly better iteration of what came before with ‘Concrete,’ with what I feel is a much stronger vocal hook. This is is the style that defines Poppy’s new album: something cute and happy then jarringly merged with something grim and sinister. And it gets kinda old, quite quickly.
However, ‘Bloodmoney‘ was the first big “YES” moment. It has this bombastic, noisy electronic arrangement that sounds like something pulled straight from SOPHIE, Death Grips, or Clipping, with boomy bass-boosting, gnarly glitches, hellish synths, grumbling guitars, and heavy kicks. Whilst the song and its videos religious metaphors are played-out for Poppy and just in general, its clever lyricism about sin, forgiveness, image and being genuine (“what do you believe when nobody is watching?“) makes up for it; an interesting commentary on faith, identity, and self-interests.
After a calm, acoustic-strummed intro, ‘Anything Like Me‘ morphs into a demented metal song that sounds like its tones were pulled up from the depths of hell; a literal and figurative narrative about Poppy becoming less “robotic” and growing more “human.” The dead-pan talking vocals, cut in with screaming samples, are a nice touch. And when it all steps out of the dark and into the light with a soft reverie passage before returning to that chaos, it makes for a decent finale.
With the trippy, edit-heavy production of ‘Fill The Crown,’ we see a song that never really reaches the pay-off that it felt like it should’ve built towards, despite starting off well with moody synths and chords. The tracks vocal duo, Poppy’s parts layered over with screaming, in the verses and pre-choruses feel more subdued in delivery than what they should’ve been. But the song’s sole strength is its chorus, this yearning vocal refrain of “you can be anyone that you want to be, you can be free,” one of the few elements that I enjoy about this particular cut. (The video’s imagery, seeing Poppy trapped and expressing thoughts of freedom, address being stuck in a very toxic relationship, which takes on new meaning due to recent news.)
‘Nothing I Need‘ is a nightmarish nursery-rhyme and is yet the loveliest cut present. Dark synth pads, detuned sounds, subtle guitar leads, electro drums, and Poppy’s light vocals make it stand out nicely. Especially with it never once descending into being another metal romp so this LP can be oh so quirky.
‘Sit, Stay‘ feels like Poppy’s flip on a Prodigy dance hit, complete with raving synths. It’s like if Northlane’s ‘Alien‘ was less djenty and was instead fronted by a female A.I. system. As a result, there’s definitely some heavy Grimes comparisons to be made once the track’s atmospheric, dreamy EDM pop shades start to spread their wings and we get the IDM instrumentation matched with these reverb-drenched, ghostly vocalizations. Even that sinister dance-instrumental outro can’t save it.
The opening percussive fills of ‘Bite Your Teeth‘ sound like a long lost Slipknot intro from 15 years ago, complete with keg hits. In spirit, it’s basically a repeat of what ‘Concrete‘ did earlier: chopping and changing between darkened metal and bright pop, with an amusing little bite sample heard too. (Get it? Cause the song’s called ‘Bite Your Teeth‘? Fucking end me.) At one point, with Poppy quietly uttering “go,” the track drops into this insane breakdown, one that sounds like drums are breaking and the guitar strings are only moments away from snapping off. It’s a section for all of the weirdos out there who don’t like singing or melody in their heavy music. After that, the swaying drum grooves and laid-back, clean guitars to ‘Sick of the Sun‘ makes for a cool synth-pop, borderline lo-fi piece. One where Poppy nicely reaches some higher vocal notes too, and it’s a great low-key point for ‘I Disagree‘ overall. It’s like it’s all happening underwater, making wonderful use of the release’s best harmonies heard. It’s my fave Poppy song next to ‘Bloodmoney‘ and ‘Scary Mask,’ which has honestly grown on me.
Six-minute closer ‘Don’t Go Outside‘ sees trip-hop beats flipped over acoustic guitar phrases with ominous vocals sharing thoughts of paranoia and an end-of-days scenario (“the TV says you’re out of time, don’t go outside.”) Screaming metal guitar leads and big meaty drum hits puncture the track as the repeating mid-section “everything will be okay…” forms into soft “oooh” harmonies. Before a surprisingly lyrical and melodic reprisal back to ‘Concrete‘ and ‘Fill The Crown‘ return to cyclically close things out. Look, I love a good reprisal, and while that finale was a cool little cap-off, I just so wished that I actually enjoyed the reprised songs to begin with. Anyway, there it is, that’s ‘I Disagree.’ Can I go home now?
‘I Disagree’ is a mixed bag if there was an overdone music writer descriptor. For as many out there who love Poppy, there’s an equal number of people who just don’t get it. I’m somewhere in between the two, hence why the rating is 50/100: splitting the difference of this record’s ups and downs. Poppy self-labeled this new record’s overall style as “post-genre,” but calling it “post-meh” is far more accurate. Just like The Rise Of Skywalker, there’s a lot of stuff here that I like, but also a lot of cringey shit as well. The heavy mixing of styles is very interesting, and sometimes even quite well done, but a lot of it just also didn’t land for me. Just as the music is all over the place, so too is the record’s overall quality. As the best moments of ‘I Disagree’ were often overshadowed by it’s weaker, questionable sensibilities. Poppy stans will adore it because its more of what they already enjoy, and those wanting something weird will most likely get something out of this Poppy release. Yet those looking for something with substance, searching for an album whose adventurousness is also paid-off with exquisite songwriting, then they had best look elsewhere.
Anything Like Me
Fill The Crown
Nothing I Need
Bite Your Teeth
Sick of the Sun
Don’t Go Outside
‘I Disagree’ is out January 10th via Sumerian Records.