POPPY — I Disagree

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POPPY - I Disagree cover
1.78 | 8 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 2020

Filed under Alternative Metal


1. Concrete (3:20)
2. I Disagree (3:13)
3. Bloodmoney (3:02)
4. Anything Like Me (3:19)
5. Fill the Crown (3:32)
6. Nothing I Need (2:49)
7. Sit / Stay (3:54)
8. Bite Your Teeth (2:42)
9. Sick of the Sun (3:11)
10. Don't Go Outside (6:06)

Total time 35:08


- n/a

About this release

Sumerian Records, January 10, 2020.

Thanks to Unitron for the addition


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I wasn't going to review Poppy's I Disagree, which is her first full metal album after playing with metal elements somewhat in her past work, which was otherwise electronic or ambient based, depending on the album. I had my reasons for not doing it and they were good ones. For one thing it's pretty clear that this is a 'not for me' kind of album as alternative/nu metal generally isn't in my wheelhouse. At least not any more. I just find it an area of metal that apart from the few special bands with staying power has over time lost whatever appeal it may have once had for me; what may have worked when I was a teen or even a young man just doesn't wash now I'm older. I feel like it's almost designed for a younger audience looking for something to rebel to. Of course I know that's not true of every alternative metal act, but it is an overall impression I've acquired. Maybe I've just become a grumpy old man before my time.

I Disagree is an album I would have overlooked had another reviewer not made me curious through what I call the curse of the negative review. The warning was there, but I would not be told and I listened to it. What followed was a horrific experience on the ears, after which the logical thing to do would be to not take my relationship with Poppy's music any further. And it really could have ended there, but here we are, I'm reviewing it all the same. So what changed?

I suppose it's a combination of getting caught up in how much attention the album was getting through that first review, which is the most active I've seen MMA in a while, and my own apparent willingness to be a glutton for punishment for not immediately putting this album out of my mind, instead starting to jot down some notes of what I could say about it until I suddenly reached the point that I'd spent too much time on this album not to review it. Of course one could counter argue that I've also spent far more time on it than this album will ever deserve.

I will make one thing clear in this review for full disclosure reasons: I listened to I Disagree in full once. Just once, with the rest of my experience of it just skipping through checking details and switching it off again. Many will likely argue that this is far from enough times to form a fair opinion of it for a serious review. To be honest I agree, but in this case once really was enough. I also never claimed that this would be a serious review. Instead thinking of it as some random grump throwing in his penny's worth because nobody asked.

And there are really two ways that I could go about this now. I could try to be diplomatic and find some small reasons to give Poppy a bit of credit where I can, or I can just let loose with how I really feel about it. Well actually I'm going to do a bit of both, but one of these things is going to heavily outweigh the other I'm afraid and we're going to go through where I can give Poppy credit first, the few positive things I can acknowledge about I Disagree: it's an ambitious album, the young lady does possess a good voice and her music has a kind of quirkiness to it that could have actually made something entertaining if not of actual substance. And that's as far as I'll go with that!

And now for the truth: I Disagree is an absolute train wreck of an album that comes across like Poppy and her collaborators (who apart from writing credits seem to be a real tight-lipped secret over who actually plays on the album) jumped into the deep end of the pool that is metal music straight away after they barely learned to paddle in the kiddy pool, resulting in an album that while ambitious feels like too many eggs in one basket, one that they then didn't know how or didn't have the ability to handle effectively. Alternative metal was founded on adding atypical ideas to metal, which this does in spades, but it goes overboard, ending up with metal elements that just aren't very interesting and the rest just a complete mess of conflicting ideas that ultimately creates a directionless album that seems like it's stuck between two worlds: where Poppy came from and the metal world she's trying to now break into.

Or is she? You see I did a bit of research on Poppy while piecing this review together. And I found out something that I've heard before from artists who obviously are playing metal: Poppy doesn't actually consider her music to be metal. And that really rubs me up the wrong way. This is an excuse we've heard before in the metal world when an artist is likely savvy enough to realise that what they do won't sit well with the 'true' crowd, as if disassociating what they're doing from metal will make everyone turn around and say 'oh, that's all right then, we take everything bad that we ever said about you back'. Korn did it, but at least Jonathan Davis had a reason to back up the statement for his band: he considered them to actually be based in funk (but sorry Jon, you actually were metal despite your words). Know what Poppy considers her music to be? Post-genre. How fucking pretentious can you get? If by that Poppy means that she just doesn't give a fuck, then I suppose I have to do a 180 and call this album a resounding success, because that's exactly what I Disagree sounds like: throwing literally anything in heedless of what ideas gel together even slightly well. Some of it does, but that doesn't necessarily mean those parts are actually very good.

And unfortunately for her it's very difficult to see where she's coming from with disassociating her album from metal, because unless your metal upbringing was based on the Encyclopaedia Metallum diet of no alternative, -core, industrial and the like, it's pretty obvious that above all else metal is what Poppy has released on I Disagree and she also seems to be trying way too hard to look badass on the album cover. She looks like a fucking caricature.

There are a few tracks here where metal elements are either taking a back seat or not featured at all, but most songs on this blessedly short album are metal songs. Metal diluted with whatever the fuck Poppy's retained from her prior work. Take the opener Concrete for example; it's basically about her getting murdered and her corpse buried in concrete to become a street to hide the evidence of the crime. Some of the album's heaviest music is in this track, but then she goes and mixes it with all with power pop. It would be darkly quirky were the music itself not so jarringly disjointed. At one point she sounds like she's instead singing some anime theme tune. All sunshine and roses when the subject matter of her lyrics is really quite messed up!

And that's really what bugs me throughout this album. Everything included seems to be at odds with everything else. Some might call it experimental, progressive or avant-garde, but I call it simply messy. I'm left feeling that it would actually be easier to take I Disagree seriously if it were obviously that Poppy was just another one of those cute metal acts like Babymetal or Ladybaby, meaning an intended novelty that exists for a bit of fun and not be taken too seriously, as paradoxical as that sounds. But Poppy doesn't belong in the same category as those acts because apparently she's a serious artist.

That's a 'good for her' kind of thing I guess, but I for one remain to be convinced that she has any idea what's she's doing or what kind of music she actually wants to make. If its metal, then she really needs to get her head out of her arse and realise that us headbangers are pretty demanding folk whether our favourite genre is alternative metal, death metal or symphonic post-thrash based mathcore with undertones of gothic rock and celtic folk music and that while we actually are very open to other elements being mixed with metal (several entire genres have been built on that basis), we do still like the actual metal elements to be good. And here they're certainly not. The best I can describe them as is bland. If it's the other stuff, then maybe she should actually focus on that other stuff a bit more, not necessarily never touching metal or heavy elements again but certainly only using them to flavour the music she made her name on. From my personal experience of what fans of pop and electronic like, they also may be happier for it in the long run. Of course that's just speculation, since for the most part people (who are they I wonder?) seem to keep heaping praise on Poppy, but maybe that's just the culture of her background in commercial music: the following is not necessarily based on what the artist sounds like, but their looks or persona. If that's so then she may as well enjoy it, because once her five minutes of fame are up she'll be regulated to the bargain bins for the rest of time.
After years of scorn, nu metal has since began to make a comeback. With that said, nu metal still goes misunderstood most of the time. It's the black sheep of the metal family, taking direct influence of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle's discarding of genre norms. After Korn's debut displayed a combination of groove metal with many other musical elements, other bands followed suit with combining metal with whatever they felt like. Purists didn't like this, and it didn't help that in the early 2000's many regular alternative metal bands were being mistaken as nu metal and some nu metal bands went soft or in a more standard metal direction, and the genre lost steam.

Much of the nu metal revival was ignited by metalcore bands starting to bring in turntables and other different instrumentation. Poppy however, comes from a completely different background outside of metal. Originally playing electro-pop and ambient music, into metal comes I Disagree (though with some metal before). I had no interest in what she was doing previously, but a pop artist going nu metal in 2020 is a pretty odd thing and sparked my interest.

Whether influenced by them or not, I Disagree reminds me of the Finnish nu metal band Velcra in her attempt at blending metal, hip hop, pop, and various electronic styles. While Velcra shows how fantastic that combination can be in the hands of great songwriters, I Disagree suffers from genre clashing. At its worst, you have opener Concrete. You get this hardass fantastic screeching nu metal hook, then it just goes into a sugary J-pop sound right out of Babymetal. It completely conflicts with the mood and sounds like a completely different song and not in a good way. Pop is maybe among the most difficult to combine with metal successfully, as most pop music lacks the edge and angst that metal typically requires. Though as seen in parts of this album, the its melodic nature can blend well. It takes a very skilled songwriter to blend what are often opposite styles of music in a way that works and sounds good. It makes sense that on Poppy's first album length attempt at metal that she wouldn't master all the elements she wishes to combine though.

At it's absolute best however, like with Bite Your Teeth, Poppy delivers a nu metal banger. The searing riffs and discordant breakdown conjure up a similar noisy factory atmosphere as Arch Enemy's Doomsday Machine, but with a pop-esque vocal performance. There's even a short melody that sounds right out of a Pain of Salvation album. The great thing is that everything fits into place and feels like it belongs. Fill the Crown is another good song but with a Marilyn Manson-esque vibe to it. The industrial and glitchy electronic and hip hop elements fit well mostly, making sense as electronic and especially hip hop are closer in attitude to metal.

Poppy's metal debut is inconsistent and even at times hard to listen to. However, it shows promise and holds some great songs. As of now, it makes me want to listen to Velcra. With some honing of sound though, I think Poppy could deliver a great addition to the nu metal revival.
Here are two facts about myself: I'm female and I'm a massive fan of metal music. Once upon a time that would have openly been considered a paradox, but fortunately we've moved on somewhat. Not enough, but progress has been made; in 2020 being a girl and into this kind of music really isn't noteworthy. There are many women now performing in major metal bands in a variety of roles and sub-genres and more women are attending metal gigs (or we would be if not for that little bastard known as Covid-19). There are also some female musicians who have become notable for starting their careers in other genres before making the jump to metal. The 2010s saw Amalie Bruun go from various indie pop outfits to atmospheric black metal as Myrkur. Chelsea Wolfe released a doom metal album and started the sludge metal/noise rock act Mrs Piss. And Rose Kemp went from psychedelic/folk music to doom metal.

Enter Poppy.

What can we say about Poppy? Well, she's followed a similar route having made a name performing electro-pop styles, but for her third studio album I Disagree has made the jump to alternative metal. That's where the similarities in these stories end. You see, Poppy's I Disagree doesn't necessarily sound like the work of an artist who decided to embrace a love of metal the way someone like Myrkur did. Instead it sounds like the work of a hipster pop artist who decided to add some heavy guitars to her sound for the purpose being ironic without caring an iota about how the result may be perceived as a metal album. And that result is what may just be the most offensive metal album to female metalheads ever created and the stupid thing is if my suspicions are right about what Poppy was actually going for with I Disagree then she probably will never have a clue about why that is.

Let's add some context, the rarely spoken about female experience of being a metalhead. Like in many walks of life, women into metal have had to put up with a lot of unacceptable crap from men who half the time probably don't even realise they're doing it. Actually not just men, but other women who don't like metal as well can actually be just as bad or at least bloody judgemental toward a woman who listens to metal. As a female headbanger I have often found myself on the receiving end of the assumption that when I speak about metal that I don't know what I'm talking about, never mind that my Dad practically raised me on a diet of classic 70s and 80s metal and hard rock bands. There was even a meme posted here on Metal Music Archives once with the words 'When a girl says she likes heavy music' picturing Slayer as 'what you hope for' and Nickelback as 'what she means'.

And that's just the start of the shit we have to deal with, especially in the online context which for many metalheads regardless of gender is often the only place we get to actually discuss the music we love with like-minded people. Online I have been accused more than once of not being a girl, but a G.I.R.L. which you internet savvy folks will know stands for Guy in Real Life. One guy even went so far that in my early days on YouTube took it upon himself to actually make a video about me and how I was a 'sock account'. This was after I wouldn't agree with his opinion on something so trivial I no longer even remember what it was.

Does anyone realise just how fucking offensive that is? And this is not to mention the situation at gigs. It was more of a problem a few years ago, but still, I've had to put up with people assuming I'm just someone's girlfriend dragged along against her will or that I'm just there to be provocative to guys. In fact I was even sexually assaulted at a gig once by some drunk arsehole which ultimately resulted in me getting kicked out by a bouncer after I defended myself.

What does this have to do with Poppy and her first (and please God let it be her only) metal album I Disagree? Because this kind of thing is how historically women in and into metal have been perceived and treated and I Disagree sets all kinds of wrong impression. Even before we hear a single note of music we have that atrocious cover where it looks like Poppy got done up in corpse paint (complete with a spiked collar), but then you'll notice it's actually just a bad Photoshop job hiding that she really doesn't look 'metal' at all. And that's a problem in that looking metal really doesn't matter to actual metalheads. Akercocke wore tweed suits for crying out loud. Image is the selling point of the pop album. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words and true to form the cover art actually gives a glimpse at the kind of music that will be found within. Not black metal, but basically what Poppy must have been doing before dressed up as metal, just like she is on the cover. That's not a very good image to set for women in metal. It reaffirms the kind of crap people expect of a girl when she says she likes metal.

Everything about the album screams wrong when trying to listen to it as a metal album. The really heavy guitars in the opener Concrete are nice, but everything else about that song made me just switch the album off in disgust on my first attempt to listen to it, with Poppy mixing those heavy riffs with sunshine pop vocals. You may as well just listen to an actual novelty act like Babymetal if you want your metal to sound cute. Personally it makes me want to go barf up my lunch.

And it really doesn't get any better across its ten songs, if anything it instead gets worse, such as at any point that Poppy abandons her pop singing for rapping, where she manages to sound like a petulant child about to throw a major tantrum rather than anything remotely close to convincing. The more bearable parts are where she drops all the pretences of being a metal album and the heavy guitars are removed, but that just leaves us with with various elements pop, electro, dance and hip-hop, which after you scratch its surface is what you're left with across the whole release. There's precious little actual metal that's anything more than vapid and generic stuff playing a supporting role in her sound. Of course metal does mix well with other genres and it's the other elements that often raise an otherwise standard sounding release up, but that's not the case here. Maybe it works form the point of view of any of the other genres she has in the mix, I won't speak for that as that is not music I care for, but as a metal album I Disagree may just be the worst thing I've ever heard.

Poppy represents a popular artist who genuinely could have introduced metal to people who wouldn't have given it the time of day before this for no other reason than its metal and as the narrow minded have taken time out of their busy days to remind me before, metal is 'evil, unfeminine and just a load of noise'. The majority of people hearing her go metal will be in this group (the rest will be existing metalheads like me who got curious without thinking about what killed the cat). This is not a good album to give newcomers an impression of what metal sounds like. It is not even a good album to get an impression of what alternative/nu metal sounds like because frankly it makes me want to shout for the dreaded Limp Bizkit to come back because all is forgiven.

On an earlier album Poppy posed the question Am I a Girl? Well Poppy I don't know what you decided, but you look like a girl and sound like a girl, and you sure as hell made a pretty awful album to judge women in metal by with this piece of work. We're in an age where female musicians in metal are becoming more plentiful and recognised for their work, not just as eye candy. I Disagree is far from representative of female achievement in the genre and yet this will likely be the most heard album from a female solo artist in metal in 2020. Maybe even the most heard metal album. And that sucks for the genre as a whole, not just the women who are embarrassed by this perversion of an album (because I sure as hell hope I'm not the only one).

Now that I've got off my chest how it makes me feel, I'm going to do my damnedest to pretend this album doesn't exist.

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