Polly Scattergood - Arrows

Nothing about it is really strange enough to be dark; it’s too planned, too thought-through.

Label: Mute

Rating: 6

Too many references to cocoons of angel wings and lost eternities reeks of a bad writer imagining Kate Bush doing a dance around a tree in the middle of a bewitched forest and thinking that makes for good music. The opener of Polly Scattergood’s new album Arrows, ‘Cocoon’, is overly sentimental and contrived; for someone this prolific, there must have been a better option.

The music throughout is simplistic, and there’s nothing wrong with that on its own; what makes it hard to swallow here is the lyrical lack of imagination that accompanies it. The album lives either in a fantastical world or in despair; in both of these spaces, the second lines of rhyming pairs are either predictable or ridden with cliches (‘on my own’/’all alone’; ‘waiting for a sign’/’waiting for somebody to tell me that I was fine’; ‘love and laughter’/’ever after’). The Polly Scattergood sound is centred on pulling her intense, childlike voice to the fore and forcing the listener to focus on that, so if the content that the voice is producing isn’t particularly engaging, everything else suffers for it. Her music has often been described as ‘dark’ but, apart from moments of arresting vocal innocence and intimacy, nothing about it is really strange enough to be dark; it’s too planned, too thought-through.

The album improves with later tracks. As the pace builds in ‘Machines’, it gains emotional weight and, although heavy on the teenage angst, Scattergood’s feathery vocal against the increasingly urgent electronic accompaniment makes for an exciting listen. The bassy, dirty pop beat in ‘Subsequently Lost’ is infectious and here, more than on other tracks, there is some lyrical interest and honesty: ‘Because I’ve got nothing, the clouds have come,/ I could just melt away - no-one would know.’ There is also some perfectly balanced harmonisation to listen out for with the lines, ‘You would lace up my shoes; I would polish your boots./ It’s the strangest of things I hold onto like diamonds.’ ‘Disco Damaged Kid’ is a pumping, thrusting song, with more than a little of the M83 about it, and gives life to what is often a sombre record.

Arrows feels like it was written by someone who wants to paint a picture of themselves; quirky, ethereal, other-worldly or something. And the idea that you’re listening to a character, not a person, express themselves is too off-putting; there are not enough personal elements on this album and too many invented ones. It’s frustrating, too, because the honest snippets that occasionally poke through really shine.