Welcome to the first Review Off (of hopefully many!) The premise? The illustrious Metalhead World and yours truly get down and throw down in an epic review battle. My contribution lurks below, and you can read Metalhead World's review here. Enjoy! - Ed.
Written by: The Administrator
We slumbering peasantry are of a significantly, erm, flimsier stock than those marauders over at Metalhead World. Perhaps to our own detriment, we are also a prideful crowd. Such is the lot with wordsmiths. As such, when our neighbors issued the challenge to write a review of I Disagree, the latest statement from self-acclaimed post-genre messiah Poppy, we could hardly back down from a fight. And so here we are, quill and parchment held tight in white-knuckled grasp. In the distance, a murder of ravens takes flight. Sweat drips under ill-fitting plate armor. Blood will be shed this day, and I pray ‘tis not mine.
...but if today results in slaughter, the victim won’t be the artist in question. Quite the contrary. At the beginning of this process, I was familiar enough with Poppy via one Lichtmensch, but was certainly not what one might consider a fan. Now, however, after several weeks of intensive immersion, I Disagree has found solid footing in the ranks of my favorite albums of the year. Credibility be damned! Long story short: if you’re expecting a takedown, look elsewhere. This is a very good album by a variety of rubrics, and Poppy’s contributions are far too substantial to be merely dismissed.
Indeed, in an apparent effort to embrace the weird and avoid the pop label, Poppy leans wholeheartedly on her third outing into a characteristic blend of vastly distinct sonic and aesthetic components. You know the stuff: chugs, growls, bleghs, squealing riffage, combat-boot stopping aggression. The examples are far too many to count; indeed, extracting the “metal” moments from this numetal/industrial/pop/indie/post-rock/synthpop/artpop/bubblegum stew isn’t exactly a matter of removing minor details from a preexisting backdrop, but rather a complete and utter dissection. Although heavy elements shape and define the course of virtually every track herein, Poppy has asserted that this album is not metal--an artist’s statement with which I take little issue. While my non-metalhead acquaintances may insist that does indeed feel like metal, I Disagree is, at heart, a complex genre conglomerate. Reducing I Disagree to a simple metal + pop formula erases the nuance that defines Poppy’s brand. However, her claims that this is a work that somehow transcends genre--namely, an example of post-genre--is a statement with which I, in all my humility, am inclined to disagree. Nothing here reaches beyond that what has been done before, but rather combines recognizable tidbits in a combination that confronts and confounds.
The balance between hefty crunch and bubblegum airiness is a delicate balancing act, and, for the most part, is handled quite well. For example, the stellar “Anything Like Me” starts like a ballad but swifty evolves into an oddly Marilyn Manson-esque industrial chorus: whispered and menacing. A spiraling riff, an acoustic interlude, and an angelic choral backdrop provide a gentle break--and then it’s back to the brutality. This track, simply put, is a brilliantly refreshing take on aggression. This is what dark pop has been missing--and, likewise, this is what industrial metal has been missing. That said, on some songs, the code switching between sonic pallets can get a tad predictable after a certain point. Opener “Concrete” is a little clunky and predictable--it feels more like a shtick than a genuine approach. "Fill the Crown" feels similar, with a clear-cut delineation between a sickly sweet art-pop MARINA-esque beat and the violent KoRn-esque nu-metal.
That said, fears are alleviated in the grand scheme. The title track is an absolute banger, as is lead single “BLOODMONEY,” which feels like a perfect intro to Poppy’s general vibe. A catchy-as-fuck chorus puncuated by a bubblegum-sweet menace. While the back half is a little more synthy as a whole, side B highlight “Bite Your Teeth” is perhaps the greatest example of the sheer tangle of sounds and sights, featuring a brilliant balance between light and dark. It's like riding a haunted house carousel with a hijacked soundtrack, existing in that nebulous space between venomous spite and a calculated disarming lightfootedness. The hooks and melodics frolic in spades, as does a gritty knuckle-dragging catharsis. A blend of multiple worlds that have very little want or reason to ever collide. Frankly, it’s fascinating. That said, followup “Sick of the Sun” illustrates a clear weakness of the album: when the palette is limited in scope, the track in question falls flat, even if it remains a good song outside the bounds of the album’s modus operandi.
There is, of course, so much more to say. The thematic underpinnings at play, wherein an impending apocalypse feels more like a mere plot device for revenge. OR the idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable visual component, particularly when it comes to accompanying music videos. Or the general sense of excess--an experience deliberately crafted to be overwhelming, disjointed, and manic. This album is like ever guilty pleasure rolled into a single saccharine bite. In other words: delicious.
But at the end of the day, I Disagree strikes me in terms of the potential it represents. While the vast majority of albums live and die in their own little bubble, I Disagree’s largest success is the sheer ability to exist in a sphere larger than the sum of its component parts. It feels much more than an album built for an isolated listening experience, and I firmly believe that Poppy is making a genuine effort to change the landscape of seemingly disparate worlds. While a single album obviously won’t serve to bridge the gap between very different fandoms, I Disagree clearly holds appeal for both metal and pop parties. That, in and of itself, is a disturbingly massive accomplishment, and indeed sheds light on the lack of music that maintains a foot in each arena. Much like Billie Eilish holding the candle of commercial appeal to pop’s dark and somber side, Poppy seems to be a tangible example in the manner in which pop is significantly more visceral and fluid than a lot of metalheads, in particular, give it credit for. This is, one can only hope, the next frontier in pop auteur stardom, and Poppy’s efforts are certainly an assertive step in an exciting direction. I Disagree comes highly recommended from this scribe, regardless of your starting place in the genre pantheon.
Poppy - I Disagree was released January 10, 2020 via Sumerian Records
Metalhead World’s review of Poppy’s I Disagree can be found here! Give it a read, and let us know who won this battle of words.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!