If you ever played the first two Bioshock games, you will remember the Little Sisters - young girls who had been kidnapped and subjected to horrendous experiments. They roam the abandoned streets of Rapture, cute outfits and giggling voices contrasting horrifically with their dead skin and glowing amber eyes. But what made them truly terrifying, should the player encounter one, was the certain knowledge that their protector (a hulking metal titan called a Big Daddy) was stomping around somewhere nearby, just raring to drill your limbs off.
This symbiotic relationship, the dynamic between eerie girlishness and full metal heft, is really the perfect metaphor with which to begin our discussion of ‘I Disagree’.
This might technically be the third album from the video art project-turned-genre-hopping musician Poppy, but it feels like a fresh debut. From the moment she began posting her twisted ASMR videos in 2015, Poppy always projected a ‘razorblades in candyfloss’ vibe, combining the saccharine with the scary to instil in the viewer an overwhelming sense of dread. This contrast between beauty with ugliness carried over to her fledgling musical career on 2017’s ‘Poppy.Computer’ and 2018’s ‘Am I A Girl?’, two albums that expounded her obsession with the disturbing nature of this dichotomy. They primarily felt like novelty records, however, vessels for her bizarre music videos; and for a long time her music operated as a mere extension of her Youtube channel, sharing more in common with the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared channel than the pop and hip-hop artists she deftly mirrored.
Now, ‘I Disagree’ is not a novelty record. Sure, it’s fun and frequently funny, but for the first time the focus of Poppy and her collaborators seems to be on the construction of songs, the sequencing of the album and the content of the lyrics. Given to the heightened artifice of previous outings, this qualifies as the most sincere and serious Poppy release yet (with an opening track about being a vampire attempting to substitute ice cream and tea for human flesh, no less).
It is also important to note, just in case the warped corpse paint on the cover didn’t give it away, that this is absolutely, unequivocally, a metal album. Yes, it still incorporates a bewildering array of styles (the Chemical Brothers adjacent lift of ‘Fill The Crown’, ‘Nothing I Need’s Japanese House-esque chorus), but metal runs through this record like black fudge through a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Core.
This is not entirely unexpected turn of affairs, Poppy has been testing these waters since she wrote ‘Play Destroy’ with Grimes (another avant-garde pop artist currently following a heavier trajectory). It, along with ‘X’ and last year’s ‘Scary Mask’ with Fever 333, went down a storm with the large swathes of the metal community primed for such a crossover by the success of acts like Babymetal, entering regular rotation on the more forward-thinking rock radio shows.
If those tracks were Poppy dipping her toe in, ‘I Disagree’ is her full-length immersion. It kicks off with a glorious triptych: ‘Concrete’s Brian May solo meltdown gives way to the sizzling title track, which sets the bar for all anarcho-feminist bangers to follow this decade, followed by ‘BLOODMONEY’, which proudly follows in the footsteps of such classic anti-religious metal diatribes as Machine Head’s ‘Halo’ and Metallica’s ‘Leper Messiah’ in its searing condemnation of hypocrisy.
While the first half tells the listener to what to expect in terms of breakneck switches of pace (‘Fill The Crown’ in particular sounds like someone fired records from Marilyn Manson, the Chemical Brothers and Nine Inch Nails through the Large Hadron Collider), the second leaves Poppy free to further explore different avenues. Sometimes she overreaches, such as on proggy closer ‘Don’t Go Outside’, which ends an album packed with loud bangs on something of a whimper, but elsewhere she soars.
There’s a glorious moment when the pummelling thrash of ‘Bite Your Teeth’ gives way to the Steve Lacy-esque guitars of lighter-in-the-air ballad ‘Sick Of The Sun’. It’s a sublime contrast of light and shade, a neat encapsulation of Poppy’s unparalleled ability to zig-zag between horror, comedy and tragedy (on the latter matter: should if you want to put lyrics such as “I disagree with the way you are trying to pressure me” in context then I recommend reading her statement on parting ways with long-time collaborator Titanic Sinclair).
This album is going to seriously divide opinions across the spectrum, from the trvest of metal sugariest of pop stans. But Poppy remains a daring and divisive artist making daring and divisive art, and ‘I Disagree’ is the perfect shot of adrenaline to kick start a new decade with.
Words: Josh Gray
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