Since launching her surreal YouTube channel back in the mid-’10s – a bemusing collection of robot-voiced videos that granted her cult internet status, performed alongside her ‘friends’, a basil plant and a mannequin called Charlotte – Poppy’s career has taken more twists and turns than a series of Love Island.
Where debut album ‘Poppy.Computer’ continued the pastel-hued, uncanny valley schtick in musical form, by follow-up ‘Am I A Girl?’ she’d managed to gain enough legit musical intrigue to rope in Grimes and Diplo as album features. Third LP ‘I Disagree’ flipped the script entirely, delving into screamo and heavy rock and earning the singer – real name Moriah Rose Pereira – the first ever solo female nomination in the GRAMMYs’ metal category, while 2021’s ‘Flux’ saw Poppy get more, well, poppy – or at least pop-punk.
‘Zig’, as well as titling her fifth studio album, feels like a succinct analogy for the 28-year-old’s career as a whole; “When you zig, I zag,” goes the purposefully contrary chorus of its title track. Yet while many of her previous switch-ups have felt transgressive and often incredibly brave (much of ‘I Disagree’ was written in the wake of a public split from former partner and collaborator Titanic Sinclair, following allegations of extreme manipulation), Poppy’s fifth could have benefited from retaining a little more of the zag of old.
True to form, across the record she treads new ground once more – veering into a gothic strain of synths that veer from club-adjacent claustrophobia on ‘Knock Off’ to slow-building string-laced melodrama on ‘What It Becomes’; two of the record’s more intoxicating cuts. However, for every moment of atmospheric pay-off, there’s another that’s all-too one-note. The drum’n’bass beat of ‘The Attic’ feels like it’s chasing the coattails of more successful modern revivalists like PinkPantheress, while ‘1s 0s’’ repetitive lull lacks punch.
‘Zig’’s best moments are when Poppy leans more heavily into her extremes – either overtly pop on the queer lust of ‘Motorbike’, darkly industrial on ‘Hard’, or a strange mash of both on ‘Flicker’, whose melody comes off like Britney’s ‘Piece of Me’ gone spooky. Having left jaws on the floor with her initial metal reinvention, that any part of Poppy’s latest could be thought of as a little unexciting just feels like a waste.