When it comes to naming your debut album – a collection of songs that have accompanied you on the years schlepping from venue to venue across the country – what better name to give it than your own? Eponymous albums present themselves as a self-portrait rather than an untitled work, and the portrait Polly Scattergood presents of herself here is unsettling but beguiling. Drowning in insecurities, uncertain of men and uncertain of people in general, her energy comes from a slowly stewed anger that surfaces through some pretty blunt lyrics.
The result is often a lot more pop than that description makes it sound. Recent single ‘Other Too Endless’ bounces along with a joyous drive, the hand claps light up ‘Please Don’t Touch’, and ‘Unforgiving Arms’ is an ethereal pop song reminiscent of Alisha’s Attic. Despite that, there’s a dark thread running through all these songs. Scattergood uses songwriting for catharsis. Though indulgent, her references to failed relationships, unconvincing self-help mantras and general insecurities are delivered with enough conviction and pleasing bitterness. She has a voice that flits from the raw emotion of Beth Gibbons to Kate Bush’s more unhinged moments, and stops off at many other destinations between. Its unpredictability makes it captivating.
Scattergood favours singing close to the mic. On the few occasions she amplifies her voice, it becomes more raspy, quivers, and sounds like she’s about to break down into tears – tears you have been waiting to come since the first line. It’s such a moment that transforms ‘Poem Song’ from sounding like someone practising for their Grade 1 piano exam into a torch song able to send shivers down the spine. The instrumentation on the album is typically uncomplicated – piano, guitar, drum kit, maybe a string solo – but not without the occasional flourish. And beneath all that is a bed of fuzzy synths and programming that gives the album a hissing, lo-fi, Gothic sound that’s as untamed as her voice.
At times Scattergood’s lyrics are likely to make even the most angsty creature roll their eyes. ‘Untitled 27′ is where it gets a bit gauche. Beginning with “I miss you. Where are you? I’m lost” in an affected childlike voice panning across the speakers, Scattergood then starts “Suicidal tendencies…”. In these moments of lyrical immaturity it’s hard to genuinely care, and that is ultimately going to be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of people falling for this album. Let Polly play on, though, because towards the end of the album are two real gems: ‘Bunny Club’, with its deep, pulsing beat, new wave synths and strange optimism, and 2007 single ‘Nitrogen Pink’, a swelling pop-rock number that speeds up to a frenzy.
Maybe just an intriguing voice and some awkward lyrics on the first spin, Polly Scattergood doesn’t set out to be an easy listen. But the thing that grates is probably the same as what pulls you in. If she can work out what that is, and utilise it to its full potential, then she’ll have something very powerful on her hands.
UK release date: 09/03/09; www.myspace.com/pollyscattergood
‘Other Too Endless’
‘I Hate The Way’
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