“Give her a face, give her a name that isn’t hers, then make her yours,” Poppy drawls in the opening moments of ‘Her’. Drawing on The Breeders and Hole, the first single released from fourth album ‘Flux’ came accompanied by a dystopian stop-motion video in which endless androids spew out from a conveyor belt.
Shoved onto stage by pneumatic limbs, these carbon-copy robots are forced to perform for a villainous overlord. This perhaps mirrors Poppy’s experiences of signing to a major label aged just 17, and the perception among fans that she was being creatively controlled (she has claimed that former collaborator Titanic Sinclair subjected her to “manipulative patterns” of behaviour, which he did not deny in a vague statement to Vanity Fair). Poppy has been clear that she’s always had creative ownership over her music. “When it comes to writing these songs, it’s very much me, and it always has been,” she told The Forty-Five earlier this year.
At the start of her career, she adopted a remote, softly-spoken YouTube persona with which she seemed to parody aspects of online culture, pop music, and what we choose to share with the world. In recent years, she has gradually retired this guarded persona, and has also embraced genres beyond pop – 2018’s ‘I Disagree’ dipped into heavier climes, and she later became the first female solo artist to win a Grammy nomination in the Best Metal Performance category.
‘Flux’ also shifts its focus in a different direction, drawing on a diverse cross-section of alt-rock, including Veruca Salt, Jack Off Jill and Garbage. The spiny guitar playing on ‘On the Level’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Liz Phair record, the chugging, discordant echoes underpinning ‘Hysteria’ sound like a half-nod to Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’ and the sing-song chant of ‘So Mean’ has the bite of L7 running through its veins. Poppy’s fairly faithful spin on all of these influences is great fun, and hard to fault – but if ‘Flux’ is lacking in one thing, it’s perhaps the futuristic warp present in her previous three albums.
While it might be tempting to read ‘Flux’s more alternative leanings as a rare glimpse of the ‘real’ Poppy, doing so would stumble into the misconception that pop music is somehow less gritty or worthy than rock, and it’s not quite what this album is about. Ultimately ‘Flux’ feels like a record about holding clear boundaries, constantly shifting in the face of set expectations, and following your creative gut instead.
Release date: September 24
Release label: Sumerian Records