In the midst of the internet age, every new artist seems to spawn from the platform, but with Poppy, this birth was taken quite literally. Poppy’s initial explosion was due to their weird, short, and viral videos released on their Youtube channel. Their vague, random nature prompted many unanswerable questions about the character they portrayed, and the purpose of everything they were doing. What seemed to be a plain, innocent, blonde girl gave hints to much more than that. And now, in 2020 and on their third studio album, they’ve become something else. The past several years have spawned many developments in the understanding and presentation of the character. Poppy is a physical embodiment of the internet as a media, and in many ways, the people who use it. As a member of an illuminati-esque organization, Poppy is a robotic puppet, initially ignorant, but recently gaining more knowledge and sentience. There is much more I could go into here, but you don’t need a crash-course on their entire origin and history. The important thing is knowing Poppy is a character, an android, a robot, a concept. And that comes with complex development, as concepts typically do.
The character of Poppy is not the only thing showing development, however. The immense amount of transitions and discoveries have spawned a linear progression in their musical style as well. Poppy.Computer (2017) gave us an introduction into the life of the character known as Poppy, and encased it in glitter and magic. This bright, smooth, and innocent pop music was then corrupted throughout Am I A Girl? (2018), as we began to explore more of their background and inner thoughts. What began as another synth-pop record ended in a pop-metal fusion, many were comparing to bands such as Baby Metal. But now, after signing with Sumerian Records; known as a label specifically for heavy metal; they’ve made the full commitment. Well, kind of.
The album starts with “Concrete,” a song I’ve already reviewed, but will still discuss. I was initially torn on my feelings of it as an opening track, but after listening to the album in its entirety, I think it’s a good choice. As soon as you press play, the initial moments will alarm you (literally), as what sounds like a tornado plays directly into your ears. I think this works well as a tool to engage and prepare the listener for the; quite frankly, intense; journey they’re about to go on. After that, the song begins to alternate from hushed vocals backed by heavy, percussive guitars, to reserved, and silky-smooth power-pop; all before ending in an I-think-Phill-Collins-inspired finish. Thematically, it introduces the obviously-distressed character of Poppy, as they ask you to please “turn [them] into a street,” while also exploring the sweet and innocent person behind the mask, just wanting something sweet to eat. I think the dichotomy of the musical genres present, and the themes they introduce, turn it into a microcosm for the album as a whole.
Read my “Concrete” review here.
Though they have their moments, the following tracks are slightly less sweet. The title track, “I Disagree,” is a rage-filled admission of the things Poppy obviously doesn’t agree with. The verses start again with the hushed tone of Poppy, this time backed by a weird, electronic, bell-ringing effect; before devolving into a chorus, with a heavy, harsh, but catchy bass and guitar riff behind Poppy’s joy-filled lyrics about burning everything down. Though it repeats similar lyrics, Poppy’s vocals only get angrier and louder, until their more like raw, emotional shrieks. And I think this gives it exactly what it needs to not get old fast. The next song, “BLOODMONEY,” ditches much of the typical metal instrumentation used in the previous tracks, for a static-filled, industrial, almost-dubstep instrumental. There’s really no break from this, as they bombard you with shouted accusations, and the wall of sound surrounding them. I think this production could’ve easily sounded generic, but there are additions of various sound effects and samples within the track that help give it a unique and chaotic character. Human laughs, gasps, and screams all find themselves in there to aid in the fun.
In “Anything Like Me,” Poppy adds yet another genre to their arsenal, although I don’t quite know what to call it. With acoustic guitars and either a piano or simulated piano, they turn both the beginning and end into a slow, pop-ballad. With a center, that has a bit of a bite. Dealing with intense personal struggle, Poppy finds themself in a fight with someone else, or even themself, in trying to keep their identity. “Fill The Crown” then starts what is a brief transition back to the old Poppy. The chorus is traditional synth-pop, describing to someone that they “can be free;” I think something that everyone can get behind. But this is the first song on the album I didn’t entirely love. The style is not the issue I personally had with it, but instead the lyricism at points seems a bit generic and maybe thrown-in. When Poppy does transition to and introduce the metal verses, they seem almost meaningless. Using what seem like key words in “Poison the children,” and “Forfeit your life,” I don’t think the message is as easy to follow here. And rather than add onto what has been built up in some sort of narrative, it just seems like typical and dark messages.
“Nothing I Need” is then the track that follows up on this sonic shift, by sounding like it could’ve easily come off of Poppy.Computer. With an instrumental from an 80’s synth-wave record, Poppy allows the listeners to chill a bit before any more aggression takes place. It also gives a bit of a reflective side, like “Anything Like Me,” but much more tame. Having a bit of an internal dialogue with lines like “Something strange happened to me / All I ever wanted, it was nothing I need” shows that this album, and Poppy as a character, is not all about projected aggression and retaliation.
The menacing tone then immediately jumps back in with “Sit / Stay.” I’ve already discussed this with a couple of people, but I think the opening of the track could easily pass as a future-funk track on something like Jet Set Radio. The pace only continues once they introduce the heavy slapping of bass, and slight but noticeable filter over Poppy’s voice. The track then continues alternating between the purely-electronic, video game music and its metal rendition. The lyricism is yet another example of a dichotomy within this album, shouting to “Sit and stay, lie on the ground,” but resisting against that urge and demand by endlessly repeating “I will not obey you, I will not obey,” toward the end of the song. This finale to the track is covered slowly by a crackling hum toward the end, to make the transition to the next one much easier.
“Bit Your Own Teeth” starts off with what is certainly the most “traditional” metal part of this album, only diverting from the standard equation to add a few cheery bells to the same lyrics. However, about halfway in, it all comes to a halt for a smooth and simple indie-pop melody. After that, about thirty to sixty seconds of drone metal. And then finally, an orchestral section that once again, reminds me of a video game score. But this one from a much more emotional cut-scene, and not a speedy skateboarding session.
The final two tracks to this album are, in my opinion, much different than the rest. While both incorporate certain themes and sounds that make them cohesive and consistent with the album they’re in, they seem to be filled with a lot more genuine emotion. And they certainly bring everything together into something solid and understandable. “Sick Of The Sun” is exactly what it sounds like, a sad song all about how much Poppy just wants to stay inside and leave the sunshine. Whether it burns your skin or your eyes, the sun is harmful to you, and to Poppy, something worth avoiding. It definitely sounds like a Poppy song, but mostly just from the voice. There aren’t any hints of metal in here, but it isn’t synth-pop either. It seems to be a bit more stripped back in nature, and could’ve easily found itself on a bedroom or indie-pop album, if the production were a little different.
The closing track, “Don’t Go Outside” is luckily, a lot less depressing as it may initially sound. And I think, in a lot of ways, it’s a perfect ending to this particular album. When it comes to instrumentals, it’s a collaboration of several different eras of metal, coming together. The intro is eerily similar to a lot of old Metallica intros, featuring a chilling acoustic melody. Transitioning into the second verse, an industrial hip-hop beat comes over all of that, nodding its head to Nine Inch Nails and family. These two centered sounds continue to meld; only adding one loud, grandiose, and technical guitar solo in the center of the song right before the outro of it all. Lyrically, it paints a picture of a hellish, either post or present-apocalyptic world in which pretty much everything is in ruin. In which case, you shouldn’t go outside. But like I said, that’s not the bow tying everything together. If it was, I would’ve cried myself to sleep. Instead, they include a reprise; a much more calming one, I may add; of about three different tracks. The repetition of “Let it all burn down, burn it to the ground / We’ll be safe and sound, when it all burns down” meets up with “You can be anyone you want to be,” and of course, “Bury me six-feet-deep and just cover me in concrete, please.” Two of these sound vaguely negative, and slightly terrifying, but the clear, composed, incredibly peaceful voice behind it is more of an “everything is alright” than anything else.
As an album, it’s a lot to take in, and a lot to talk about. I probably didn’t even get to mention 25% of my thoughts on everything, but it’s hard to keep track of, and fit into one post. All that being said, I think it’s very solid. It was probably my most anticipated release coming into 2020, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. When looking at each individual piece of the puzzle, it at least passes all the performance tests. The production and balancing was fantastic. Of course there are little issues here and there, but aside from a couple of possibly-overcompressed sections, or unnecessary additions, I don’t think there are any noticeable problems. Each track flows into one another relatively well. There are no huge gaps or leaps it makes that throw you off. But at the same time, nothing gets too repetitive. Even if you hear the same tools and patterns (quiet, loud, quiet is often abused here), the intriguing and nonstop shifts in genre and tempo cover it up.
The main weak spots I identified were the occasional lyrical faults, and overall lack of clear narrative their last release, Am I A Girl?, had. I think several songs on this album say a lot, whether it’s about Poppy specifically, or society as a whole. I think “Sick Of The Sun” has a simple but relatable message. I think “Sit / Stay” also has a pretty simple premise; one that’s executed well. But that’s the thing: most of them are pretty simplistic. There certainly could’ve been a tad more added, to either distinguish it from others like it, or just place additional depth. Also, while it holds up as a cohesive entity, and certainly a consistent concept, I thought Am I A Girl? put forth a much more linear, intriguing narrative behind it. While certain themes and sounds are grouped throughout that album to help pacing and make it flow well, I don’t think it tells a story like the past one did. That’s not an inherent negative, but something I figured would be put in here, considering their last studio album.
Many people continue to compare Poppy to Baby Metal, but I think that’s a huge insult to what Poppy and their producers have done in this LP, and their last EP, Concrete. This isn’t standard pop and standard metal. There’s industrial metal, thrash metal, drone metal, nu metal, electronic, industrial hip-hop, indie-pop, and the list goes on. The fact that I didn’t even mention synths there, despite their last two albums being entirely synth-based says something. Their genre splicing has different degrees of success and uniqueness, but I don’t think there is a song on here that sounds like another they’ve released thus far, and I can’t say the same about Baby Metal releases.
Overall, I Disagree is by far one of the more creative rock albums to have come out in recent memory. Is it the most conceptual album? No. Does it bring something to the conversation of society and ourselves? Of course. It’s not the most lyrical release in the world. But the impressive compilation of varying styles combines with a very skillful production team, and of course voice, to create a somehow-accessible and smooth nu-metal album. I haven’t heard anything else like it in my lifetime, and while you can point out similarities to other artists, they just don’t have the X-factor Poppy has recently shown. I’m thinking an 8 on this one.
Favorite Track(s): “Concrete,” “Sit / Stay,” “Don’t Go Outside”
Least Favorite Track(s): “Fill The Crown”