Polly Scattergood has waited nearly five years to follow up her self-titled debut. That first record, which featured the likes of Other Too Endless, Please Don’t Touch and Nitrogen Pink, was full of kooky, pouted indie tracks. And it really was kooky; while Zooey Deschanel was busy at work with M Ward, working on their She And Him project, Scattergood was recording the work that sounded more her than anything Deschanel has ever produced.
Her whispered, hushed vocals looked to Kate Bush for inspiration, but the themes and subject matter she tackled were rather more grounded, mapping out the musings of a lost, tortured romantic; the poetry of a confused young girl. But her natural gift for storytelling meant it was as enchanting and mysterious as it was intriguing.
Arrows – released by Mute, who also released her first album – was so long in the making thanks to a severe case of writers’ block, which was apparently cured by a trip to Berlin where, immersed in the city’s notorious electronic scene, she found her voice again. It contains the essential ingrediants of her first effort; the whispered, other worldly vocals still dominate, but now they’re forced to share centre stage with a heavier electro presence.
She’s repositioned herself, looking to Robyn and Niki And The Dove for company, mixing a dancier sound with a dreamy, far away vocal. If anything exemplifies the mission of change she’s undertaking, it was her support slot at this summer’s Goldfrapp show at Somerset House, where she was kitted out like a baby Alison Goldfrapp, strutting across the stage, soaked in glitter. The transformation was something akin to Sophie Ellis Bextor‘s switch from post-britpop indie kid with theaudience to dancefloor diva with Spiller. And Scattergood did it well; she’s a BRIT school graduate, after all.
Similarly to Ellis Bextor’s first dance effort, there are hits and misses, and Arrows is by no means a fully accomplished album. But there are some gems that make it a very listenable collection. And we’re not alone in thinking that; its first single Wanderlust was released back in April and has been remixed by How To Dress Well and Charli XCX. Its sweeping, soaring synths are pitched perfectly; it’s not going to fill a stadium or be chanted by a festival crowd, but it’s a gorgeous burst of summery dreampop.
Disco Damaged Kid is the sharpest reminder of her previous incarnation; the intonation is lifted from Please Don’t Touch and, with her wobbling voice sounding almost on the verge of tears, it’s an emotional listen made more accessible by floaty drum machines and hammered keyboards. Cocoon is of a similar vein; its chorus might play into the hands of those who dismiss her as lightweight – “From my cocoon of angel wings, from my cocoon I’m going to let you in” – but when, a minute or so in, she wails “I’m going to let you in”, things take a much darker turn and, as the track plays out, like a storm imploding around her, she suddenly sounds altogether more serious.
The 10 tracks that make up Arrows will wrap you up, hug you close and tell you stories before placing you back gently, where they left you. They work together to create an engaging record that could so easily have felt self-conscious. Arrows was well worth the wait.