Album review: Poppy – Zig

She’s explored the possibilities of punk, metal and even bubblegum pop… but what will Poppy do next? Electronica, it turns out. And what’s more, she’s bloody good at it.

Album review: Poppy – Zig
Luke Morton

As Poppy says in the eponymous track from her fifth full-length, ‘when you zig I zag’, and few could have predicted the jagged stylistic shift she’s made here. Following 2021’s shoegazey alt.rock of Flux and last year’s punked-up Stagger EP, all signs were pointing to a rockier road, but in a quintessentially Poppy move, the genreless enigma has hard-turned into the Technicolor wonderland of electronica.

Speaking to Kerrang! in September, Poppy said, “I love the swing. I love polarising art,” and her swandive into the pool of EDM is sure to send ripples through her fanbase and the wider scene. Sure, synthpop and various shades of electro aren’t alien concepts to the singer/songwriter, who’s dabbled in all things synth since the saccharine pop of her debut, but the level of production, detail and songcraft on Zig is lightyears beyond what her embryonic state was capable and, at times, way ahead of her peers.

Clocking in at 30 minutes over 11 tracks, it’s a whistle-stop ride. Less conventional songs, and more like snapshots of emotions and places in time – often ending abruptly or fading away like diary entries – the perpetually forward-facing artist moves on to bigger, bolder ideas in the blink of an eye, yet it’s all connected by that feeling of what it means to love and be loved.

But don’t go thinking it’s all sunshine and rainbows about the joy of relationships, it’s almost the opposite – this record is a dissection of love and the realisation of what you want (and more importantly don’t want) from it. Empowerment lies at its core, as the record opens on the brooding, almost-sleazy Church Outfit, sounding like the kind of clubs you wish you were cool enough to get into. With screams and sirens rumbling low in the mix, Poppy claims that ‘life is a commercial for death’ and that no-one should tell you what to wear. Such palpable defiant energy flows into Knockoff, where she proudly states she’s done with fakery and polyester love, only wanting that ‘real shit’, as thumping bass and sonic flourishes build a cocoon of sound around a track that should be a daytime radio staple.

Such polished production courses through veins of Zig, with each track elevated above its component parts, as the genre-muddling star incorporates elements of industrial, metal and jungle amongst the record’s heavier junctures, with piano and cello bolstering the album’s more delicate passages. Comparing Poppy to any artist has always been a fool’s errand, but there are certain sections to point to for reference – Flicker, for example is reminiscent of Halsey’s more serene moments, the catchy AF title-track has an almost Gaga-esque quality to it, and there’s even a smidge of Radiohead in the fragility of Linger’s guitars. And yet all of it makes sense within the Poppyverse.

In another artist’s hands, this full-tilt foray into electro after building a foundation in heavier territory could be seen as divisive or even a mistake, but there are few acts like Poppy, who can wield the shimmering, funk-laden coolness of Motorbike alongside the cataclysmic metallic hyperpop of 2020’s I Disagree and it still feel like one cohesive unit. And while Zig adds another piece to the Poppy puzzle, we’re still nowhere near completion. Who knows if we’ll ever truly get there. Or if we even need to…

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Grimes, girli, Jazmin Bean

READ THIS: Poppy: “Every day I wake up, I want to push myself to do something that I haven’t done the day before”

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