Review Summary: A bit too much going on, but somewhere in the fog is a talented woman trying to find her way.
The UK has spawned some really great artists and bands this past decade. From the reigning buzz leaders like Radiohead and (in this past year) the xx, to the hidden treasures such as Scout Niblett and Essie Jain. Some great songwriters and performers, all with a unique sound. Well, can we add Polly Scattergood to that list?
Almost. Not quite.
Scattergood is one of the strangest and most eclectic acts to come out of the UK this past year, and she has been getting some buzz ever since her singles "I Hate the Way" and "Nitrogen Pink" came out over the past two years. She is a young woman in her early 20s who often sounds like she's half her age, and with those wide, saucer-like eyes, her childish facade becomes even bolder. That's why her self-titled debut can actually hinge on straight up disturbing on occasion. Scattergood sings painful lyrics about "suicidal tendencies", and taking pills and going to bed. By the time this album is over you want to slap her and give her an enormous bear hug and tell her "Everything will be ok!"
That aside, though, Scattergood is actually a very talented girl. She oozes creativity, and it threatens to bust the album's seams at any moment (and sometimes it just about does.) Her voice, too, with its ability to switch between a childish whimper and a gritty, grinding emotional bellow (sometimes within the same verse) is equally astounding. So, with these two knockout traits, what could possibly be the bad qualities? Well, actually, the rest of her traits act as conflicting ones; they double as good and bad. These would be her songwriting, both lyrically and musically.
Take, for example, the second track, "Other Too Endless." It has an infectious and slow-growing propulsive rhythm, and her voice is actually more restrained and easy to listen to than it often is. But the problem lies in the lyricism goes in tight circles. In other words, she writes this long chorus that is about six measures longer than the verses, and its a reptitive one at that. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if it didn't recur so often. We get sick of the chorus very quickly, and thats what makes up a large portion of the song. (And it doesn't help that she actually uses the word "loveblind" in the otherwise great bridge.)
This happens a lot on her debut. She loves the big showstopping choruses. Songs like "Bunny Club" and "Nitrogen Pink" suffer the same fate, but manage to succeed more on other merits. "Bunny Club" has an eerily laid back groove throughout the whole thing, and even though it seems to get very repititious and silly, the sounds and calm performance from Scattergood rescue the song by just a hair. More can be said about "Nitrogen Pink", which, despite its multitude of choruses, is actually one of the best songs here. Once the second chorus passes (and it's not long, trust me) they change each time they come back, advancing the song. Also, her voice rises in congruency with the music, as it builds for five minutes into this raging crescendo. Then it just drops off into a gentle lull to bring us out. This is how she should have managed more often on this album.
The middle section is full of shorter songs, and they don't always work. "Untitled 27" is downright depressing, even though it is sonically the most interesting piece here and "Please Don't Touch" just sounds silly in its contrasting moods. "Unforgiving Arms" is a decent one with an actually pleasant chorus. The centerpiece "I Am Strong", while a bit sappy (like all the piano ones here) holds its own with a beautiful melody. Actually, though, Scattergood seems to be more listenable when at the piano bench, such as on the gorgeous "Poem Song". She can get a bit too blase confessional singer-songwriter though, and the bombast of other tracks kind of disguises that slightly.
Polly Scattergood is a very talented woman, but she has too many ideas crammed into this album. Her vocal acrobatics are akin to Patrick Wolf; the way she'll grit her voice into a whisper, seemingly on purpose on songs like "Untitled 27". There's so much drama on display, and I'm not completely sold on how well she can handle it. This might be why songs like "I Hate The Way" (her best songwriting minus the outro) and "Poem Song" work so well. Her voice is given more room, and the backdrop is just that: A Backdrop, and not a whole show in itself. Perhaps if she replicates those moods again on her sophomore album, she will see more success.
Key Tracks: I Hate the Way, Poem Song, Nitrogen Pink