Hailing from the same school that introduced Amy Winehouse to the world, Polly Scattergood is taking a less dramatic approach with her debut album while incorporating more drama in her song structures. Forgoing the excess that aforementioned vocalist, Scattergood obviously owes a huge debt to Kate Bush; both use intriguing subject matters in their lyrical content and both offer listeners similar quirky vocal techniques. And while Bush utilized a passion for dance in much of her creative projects, Scattergood is involved with film and video for hers, many of which are scored with her musical contributions.
With a vast notebook of hundreds of songs and a unique pop vision, Scattergood caught the eye and ear of Mute’s Daniel Miller who immediately positioned this young songbird as the next great kooky singer/songwriter. They said the same thing about Tori Amos, of course, and she was able to make a cottage industry as a younger generation’s Kate Bush. If you were one of those who was able to overlook Tori’s shortcomings and enjoy her body of work, then there’s a good chance you’ll feel the same about Ms. Scattergood’s debut. She may be good enough to start her own industry as this generation’s Tori Amos.
It’s certainly better than Y Kant Tori Read, but then again, that’s not saying much. Polly Scattergood is a collection of fictional character studies that focus on the morose and the modern problems of young womanhood. The problem—and it’s a common one throughout the record—is that Scattergood hasn’t found a way to quit when she’s ahead. As a result, many of the album’s dark corners begin to turn into depressive narratives with very little incentive for empathy.
There’s no better example than the opener “I Hate The Way,” which starts as ethereal confessional, builds into a cinematic world wind and then crashes into a whiney spoken word piece. For two minutes, Scattergood contemplates starving herself, becoming sluttier, and questioning her own emotional stability so that her man “will stop looking at the other girls.” It does nothing for the song and, curiously, wasn’t on the original version. It’s been tinkered with for the album version, hinting that maybe the project needed a headstrong producer not afraid to question the creative decisions of this young talent.
She’s only twenty-two, and it shows. But there are a few hints that Scattergood—when she tones down the tortured bullshit and focuses on real emotions—can overcome the shortcomings and deliver music that’s worthy, honest, and interesting. “Other Too Endless” seems to be created from real world events, not from fictional accounts, and it should come as no surprise that it may be the best song on the record.
Vocally, there’s a lot to be desired. Her voice is nowhere near the God-given talent of Kate Bush, nor does it contain the emotional range of Tori Amos. She relies on this creepy mic’d-up-close whisper that’s monotonous and uneventful. Her high-end registers quiver and annoy, making Polly Scattergood a very love-it-or-leave-it affair.
With so many songs already composed in her repertoire, an obvious admiration for the unusual and a lineage to some well established ladies that paved the way for this kind of music to begin with, it’s curious why those responsible for this release decided to stick to a fairly conservative song cycle. Polly Scattergood is 48 minutes of benzo-suites, conveniently packaged in fictional narratives that provide no real insight on her apparent talent or emotional spectrum. I’m sure that there’s a few who will find her torment somewhat appealing, but for me, it’s the equivalent of someone medicating themselves into a corner of morose creative writing while being too high to decipher what’s really half-baked.