Friday, July 10, 2009

Polly Scattergood - Polly Scattergood

More than a few listens in, and I still don't quite know what to make of Brit School graduate Polly Scattergood's debut album. Opener I Hate The Way begins with her delivering an irritatingly childlike vocal. "I hate the way I bleed each time you kiss me," she says. It's a worrying start, but things seem to take an upturn as a strong chorus belted out over post-grunge fuzzy guitars leads into a piano-led verse and back again. It's certainly interesting. But then it all goes horribly wrong again. The song - already nearly six minutes long - descends into a cringeworthy spoken word section during which she sounds like Morwenna Banks' Little Girl in Absolutely; "Maybe if I skip my dinner/Make myself pretty and thinner/Maybe then he'll love me and stop looking at the other girls." It's safe to say that Polly Scattergood is not going to be a breezy listen.

With Untitled 27 things continues to hurtle down this angsty route and when Scattergood sings, "Suicidal tendencies drain creativity," this reviewer feels like throwing the CD out of the window and jumping out with it. Sure, everyone loves a bit of misery in their music, but so far this is like reading a 15-year-old goth's diary. And not in a good way. At this stage of the album the constant woe, doom and neurosis haven't been counterbalanced by any shards of light at all. I mean, The Smiths could do self-loathing and misery better than anyone, but they did it with the kind of wit that made embracing them and empathising so easy. Here though, you just want to tell Scattergood to phone a mate/have a beer/put some Beach Boys on the stereo/jump on a tramopline/watch The Mighty Boosh/do anything - just cheer up and chill out.

However - and this is a big however - just at the point when this eponymous long-player seems unrescuable, a surprising thing happens; Please Don't Touch kicks in - all hooks and a clap-along chorus. It's still miserable-as-fuck in its subject matter, but it's catchy and gutsy and really bloody great. After this, the album continues as it started: lots to admire and lots to dislike. All the time Scattergood remains humourless, but the music is accomplished and edgy with its electro experimentation, elements of trip-hop, frenzied violins and soft pianos. And when she fully opens up her voice, the result is a pleasing mix of Kate Bush and Natasha Khan.

As well as having an awesome - and apparently given - name, Polly Scattergood is an unquestionably talented and really intriguing musician. And if she can go on to show dimensions other than the neurotic character that she seems so desperate to purvey then there could be very exciting things to come from her in the future. Indeed, one of the few times she steps out of her insular word - on the synth-ridden Bunny Club - she proves that she is a gifted, vivid lyricist. "You can spit on my French knickers/You can call me a whore," she says, on what is the best track on the album. More often than not though, the quality of her writing at the moment is hidden below a shroud of A-level-esque angst.

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