Polly Scattergood – Polly Scattergood

January 01, 1970

(Mute)

 

www.mute.com

 

Lyrically, pop’s best moments are frequently its most inane
and embarrassing — pop music being a safe place for the articulation of things
you wouldn’t be caught dead saying aloud in real life, in a state of sobriety,
beyond the pages of your diary or perhaps the walls of your psychiatrist’s
office.

 

Mining a seam of mental and emotional turmoil, often
entangled with the opposite sex and relationships, Polly Scattergood’s music
forms part of a long tradition, which is OK. After all, such subject matter is
pop’s stock-in-trade. What isn’t OK is the fact that her songs — whether they’re
truly confessional or simply performances of a persona — are, for the most part,
cloying, immature and monstrously self-indulgent.

 

The most adept exponents of confessional or
pseudo-confessional pop lyricism give their work timeless appeal
(notwithstanding pop’s inherent disposability) by writing songs imbued with
rhetorical and stylistic devices such as humor, irony and kitsch, linguistic
inventiveness and, sometimes, a broader poetic sensibility. Consider diverse
artists like Morrissey, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, to name
a random handful, whose work has often revolved around the first-person pronoun
but has rarely been less than compelling. Polly Scattergood isn’t one of those
artists.

 

Some of Scattergood’s vocal mannerisms evoke Kate Bush and
Beth Gibbons, connections that are reinforced by, respectively, piano
accompaniment or an occasional generic trip-hop groove. However, such
similarities rarely go much further than that. Overall, Scattergood’s work
suggests the musings of an earnest, self-obsessed teenager weaned on MySpace
and its ilk; her lyrics have the distinctive odor of adolescent blog posts that
broadcast the personal to a global audience, under the illusion that just
because the writer feels something,
it’s automatically important and poetic and therefore complete
strangers should know all about it. Insofar as this might provide a sense of
recognition to the sullen, I’m-so-weird-and-damaged genus of teenager, giving
him or her a sense of community, that’s all well and good. But it doesn’t
travel well beyond that constituency.

 

After beginning with slightly promising polite beats and
electronic textures, the opener, “I Hate the Way” (overly long at
seven minutes), sets the tone for the proceedings, introducing the
cringe-inducing persona that Scattergood will inhabit for much of the record: a
wounded, needy soul wallowing in bed-wetting self-pity and unashamed cliché.
The vocals are so prominent that there’s no escaping the truly execrable
lyrics: for example, the appalling couplet, “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’.” The track’s closing section — so embarrassing it’s almost
unlistenable — breaks down in a heavy-handed manner, mirroring the narrator’s
sense of confusion and fragmentation. “Poem Song” highlights the other
musical side of the album, emphasizing Scattergood’s piano and her more
conventional, balladic tendencies. Again, however, the track overstays its
welcome and the lyrics grate (“I try not to let my insecurities dictate
who I am and who I want to be / I gave you all my words and my words are my
soul”).

 

To be fair, there are some redeeming moments where the music
manages to distract from the words: for instance, “Please Don’t
Touch” with its shifting tempos and handclaps is a pretty pastiche of ’70s
pop; “Unforgiving Arms” and “Nitrogen Pink” have a little
more rock backbone; and “Bunny Club” ventures into ’80s electro-pop
territory.

 

Overall, though, this is a trying exercise in witless
narcissism: never was an album more aptly self-titled.

 

Standout Tracks: “Please
Don’t Touch,” “Nitrogen Pink,” “Bunny Club” WILSON
NEATE

 

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