Album Reviews

Polly Scattergood – Polly Scattergood

(Mute) UK release date: 9 March 2009

Polly Scattergood is not a happy bunny. Her debut album abounds with tales of low self-esteem, unsuitable men, mood swings and depression. It’s like Prozac Nation set to music.

The latest graduate of the Brit School may be of the same alumni as Katie Melua, Adele, Kate Nash, Leona Lewis and The Kooks, but this isn’t comforting, coffee table easy listening. Instead, with her soul-baring lyrics and brittle, fragile melodies, Scattergood aims straight for the label of ‘new Tori Amos‘.

Second single I Hate The Way was the song that introduced most of us to Scattergood late last year, and it’s been re-recorded for this debut with a rather unnecessary spoken word part tacked onto the end. Nevertheless, it still sounds stunning – a dark, swirling ballad which builds up to a frantic climax while Scattergood gives us the first indication into her psyche (“he said not all men are bad, and I am not like your dad, and I will hold you even though you’re slightly mad”).

Elsewhere, things are a bit more conventional, if no less emotionally traumatic. Titles such as Unforgiving Arms, Please Don’t Touch and Breathe In Breathe Out all give an indication of the angst on display.

While it sometimes does become a bit too overwrought, those people who found Tori Amos’ vignettes so compelling will find much to love here. It helps as well that there’s a light pop touch on many of the tracks. Other Too Endless fits in nicely to the current vogue for all things shiny, synth-led and ’80s (so much so that Erasure‘s Vince Clarke has already remixed it) while Please Don’t Touch has a sunny, handclapping chorus that belies the lyrics about lack of self-esteem.

Scattergood is at her best on tracks like I Am Strong, which threads a beautifully pretty little piano motif around her yearning vocals, and limited edition debut single Nitrogen Pink reappears here, a glorious, swooning, swoop of a synth-pop epic. Expect a full reissue in due course, no doubt.

The album is not without its flaws though. Her lyrics, while being impressively soul-baring, become a bit too angst-ridden at times. The best lyrics always leave some allusion, some space for the listener to make their own interpretation. Here, there’s no such room – each song is about the various troubles in Polly’s life.

Also, and not unusually for a debut album, there’s a fair bit of filler. Tracks like Bunny Club and Untitled 27 are pretty dull, bland affairs and Poem Song has already been used as the B-side to I Hate The Way. Scattergood’s voice too is likely to divide opinion – sometimes breathy little girl, and sometimes nasal whine, but she does convey the requisite amount of emotion and intensity.

The market for ‘kooky female singer/songwriter’ types is pretty full up at the best of times, but there’s enough interesting moments here to suggest that Polly Scattergood intends to elbow her way in through the throng. She won’t be for everyone, but she looks set to make a stab of hanging around awhile anyway.

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