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Polly Scattergood - Polly Scattergood

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Artist: Polly Scattergood

Album: Polly Scattergood

Label: Mute

Review date: Jun. 11, 2009

Now in her mid-20s, Polly Scattergood has the uneasy aura of a Lolita just past her prime. Blonde, blue-eyed, slack-jawed and (in one photo) clutching a teddy bear, she sings with a lollipop sticky innocence and indignant tweener squeaks. She sounds about 10 most of the time, and tends (creepily) to use the word “sir” when addressing adult men.

But what a jaded and unsettling 10 she’s playing. She cuts up lines in the backs of a car and goes home with a string of unsuitable men. She is, as she tells us, in “Poem Song,” “that girl you didn’t quite kiss / with ribbons on my fingers and cuts on my wrists,” and what you take away, aside from an undeniable pop sense, is fragility, loneliness and unhappiness – verging almost onto mental illness.

Scattergood, a graduate of the same Brit School that produced Adele and Amy Winehouse, makes glossy, electro-pop with a decadent center. Here tremulous self-lacerations are paced by thumping four-on-the-floor dance rhythms, desperate confessions pumped up with swooping billows of strings. Songs like “I Hate the Way” feel simultaneously like big production numbers and nervous breakdowns. “Pass me some pills and I’ll go to bed,” Scattergood trills, to a rising swell of synths and dance drums. It’ll make you queasy if you let it, this combination of huge pop gesture and suicide note, but it is, naturally, the main thing that makes Scattergood’s debut interesting.

The best songs come late in the album. “Bunny Club” begins amid an eerie Burial-like synthetic fog, with Scattergood deadpan and saccharine as she invites a male companion to “Call me a fake, sir / you can call me a fraud / you can spit on my French knickers / You can call me a whore.” It’s a chilling, exploitative scenario, delivered in a wispy nursery rhyme croon, yet the song turns, as Scattergood breaks out of a calculated victim pose and stakes out her own territory. Her voice picks up as she hits the refrain, “Me, they take one look and they run / I’ve got a dog and a gun / And I’m living in London now.” “Nitrogen Pink,” which follows, has the same rush of triumph, a sense of damaged characters pulling up their socks and moving on. It’s denser, faster, more uplifting musically, and it lifts us out of Scattergood’s shadowy, hurtful world into a sort of independence.

A bit melodramatic, but undeniably compelling, Scattergood’s work has already drawn comparisons to Tori Amos and Kate Bush. That seems premature when the whole middle section of the album fades to grey, and Scattergood seems on wounded, damaged autopilot. A self-indulgent spoken word interlude almost sinks “I Hate the Way,” and you get that seventh-grade poetry contest sense that art has been pushed aside in favor of “feeling.” Still, there’s real drama in a handful of these songs and significant potential. Scattergood seems like a child who might grow up to become an interesting woman, if she ever comes out from behind her teddy bear.

By Jennifer Kelly

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