Subsequently Lost – Polly Scattergood
44:10 min • Mute Records • October 21, 2013
John Preston reviews
The phrase “an acquired taste” could have been made for Polly Scattergood. She has a little girl lost voice and a tendency to cast herself as a needy victim to such an extent that the preference may be to send her to a good psychoanalyst than indulge in her recorded confessions. Her self-titled debut included a song called ‘I Hate The Way’, in which Scattergood listed all of the things wrong with her and included the line, sung from the perspective of her boyfriend, “not all men are bad and I’m about like your dad and I’ll hold you even though you’re slightly mad”. But she can have a way with a tune and her best tracks were perverse and genuinely dark, atmospheric electro pop songs. Arrows picks on up the synth pop element of her first collection and broadens it and by contrast the ballads, and this is album that is more slow than fast, are just as black hearted and desperate.
‘Wanderlust’ has a Numanesque synth overarch and sounds like Goldfrapp at their squelchiest – it’s nice but derivative. The silky ‘Disco Damaged Kid ‘ is one of the many songs here that builds into something very different from its first couple of minutes, but fails to live up to the vivid imagery suggested in its title. ‘Falling’ has a rougher New Order indie pop sound and ‘Machines’ is a standout, tender electronic ballad that builds to a convincing enough passionate climax. ‘Subsequently Lost’ is probably the pop standout, a PSB type production, tight with a “I’ve subsequently lost my mind luv, apparently I’m going nowhere” chorus which very much sums up Scattergood’s opinion of herself.
The album’s final track, ‘I’ve Got A Heart’, is appropriately heart-breaking; piano and synth chords, beautifully spaced-out moments and also the confessional “the doctor gave me pills to take, to stop me feeling quite so awake” line accompanied by strings, which help play out the tracks final 2 minutes. If you don’t like this track then it’s unlikely that Polly Scattergood will be for you. Alternatively the piano-led ballad ‘Miss You’ crams in all of her less sympathetic aspects, lyrically and also in respect of performance. It’s whimsical and self-pitying with juvenile lyrics referring to bedroom floors and chimney-pot lined skies.
Arrows is an album that sees Polly Scattergood lose some of the things that made her debut oddly compelling. She is clearly attracted to melancholy and the dark disco aesthetic that’s loved by many similar artists, but here she is both more diluted and obvious than before. The things that marked her out as being different – her own relentless self-involvement and a singing style which manages to be downtrodden and girly – are still evident but the songs let her down more often than not. The surreal flourishes of songs like ‘Nitrogen Pink’ and ‘The Bunny Club’ from her debut have been replaced by more straightforward song writing and themes, and where Scattergood was very good at narrating these kinds of escapist fantasies she is less effective with these kitchen-sink type scenarios. There is a place in the electro pop world for Polly Scattergood I’m sure, but she may have to go back to her initial influences and eccentricities to push her way back through the very crowded door.