May 15, 2009 Web Exclusive
British singer/songwriter Polly Scattergood feels your pain. Your pain, and the pain of every young girl clutching a notebook filled with poetry. While it's difficult to doubt the sincerity of her convictions as they drip from every note and roll off every word of her affected shrill delivery, by the end of her eponymous debut you can't help but feel thankful puberty has long since come and gone.
Unable to bring anything new to the "quirky songstress" genre that Regina Spektor, Joanna Newsom, Björk, et al., have already explored, Scattergood resorts to bald-faced exultations of angst, wearing her battered spirit on her sleeve with such therapy-ready songs as "I Am Strong" where she announces, "I am not in a place where I can talk to you." Meanwhile, in "Untitled 27" we learn it's not just angst but "suicidal tendencies" that "drain creativity." (Insert obligatory Elliott Smith/Ian Curtis/Nick Drake defense.)
Rather than cherry-picking emotions and presenting us with a cohesive world view, Scattergood is hell-bent on arguing both sides of the equation—negating her narrative position to the psychiatrist's couch. This "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" approach leads to a series of poor choices, including an opening track spoken-word section where the album stops dead in its tracks as Scattergood melodramatically wonders "Maybe if I skip my dinner make myself pretty and thinner/Maybe then he'll love me and stop looking at the other girls."
While there's drama in Scattergood's voice, many songs fall into self-indulgent, low-energy wandering, favoring quiet mussing over pop-song structure. The elementary school piano tinkling of "Poem Song" slows the album to almost a complete halt, stretching what could have been a serviceable bridge into to a painful six minutes. Meanwhile, the plodding pace of sleepy album closer, "Breathe in Breathe Out," drains any residual energy from pervious track, the theatrical "Nitrogen Pink."
There are signs of hope—even if it might take several more scribble-filled notebooks to get there. When playing the wry Sylvia Plath fan, Scattergood's material rises above her carefully honed "little girl lost" persona. Sadly, that character gets precious little stage time, appearing only in the album's lone standout, "Please Don't Touch." The track fleetingly sparkles with a playful sensibility, featuring the near-jocular line, "there are lots of broken fingers in the dark parts of my room"—a quip capping off a her long list of shortcomings that include "My hair is always messy" and "I can't walk in a straight line."
Wait...a joke? Maybe there is life after high school! (www.pollyscattergood.com)
Author rating: 4/10
Average reader rating: 8/10