It’s not uncommon for an artist’s work to exhibit contradictory ambitions, but it’s another thing entirely to witness one at war with itself. Grimes’ new album is a battleground, no mistake, but it’s unclear for most of the running time who’ll be left standing.
Early on, Grimes sets up the stakes. ‘Maybe I’ll drown/In California,’ she sings, surrounded by self-consciously bubbly beats and sunshiney strumming. After the surprise crossover success of her last album, she seems understandably apprehensive about skirting closer to the mainstream.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for these fears to appear well-founded. Lead single Flesh Without Blood is an immaculately produced, utterly flavourless exhibition of modern pop’s ability to swallow even someone of Grimes’ force of personality. As cynical as it is catchy, it bodes ill for what’s to follow.
In an incredible feint, though, what appears to be complete surrender turns out to be Grimes’ Trojan horse, and it isn’t long before she’s flung the doors open and set up her own dance floor. Not only does she stamp the rest of the album with her own indelible mark, she uses pop’s own weapons against it. The obnoxious, weightless guitar stings of Flesh Without Blood return on the searing and eminently exciting Kill V. Maim, sounding punchier and more at home.
The salvos keep coming. Pin takes that gentle sunshine and cranks it up to a blaze. ‘It was too good to be true,’ go the lyrics, but, really, fantasy isn’t a patch on Realiti. Any pop elements that do surface are ultimately captive to Grimes’ vision. In emerging victorious from such a bloodbath, she ends up more demon than angel, but a lot more formidable for it.
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Words: Leo Devlin