Cider with Polly
Being approached to write a guest album review is a little bit like attending a party. What do you bring to the party? Like being a non-drinker at a cider festival you obviously know you can’t show up with a bottle of White Lightening, unless you have a bottle of the good stuff hidden behind your back and the whole thing’s an elaborate apple-fermentation based joke. You could head to the off license and look for a brand you don’t recognise, maybe that’d be good? But what if you end up buying the cider equivalent of Blue Nun, or a Skoda from the 1980s? What about pear cider, is that thrillingly elicit or a massively boorish faux par? Why is this so f**king stressful? Eventually you surrender, prostrating yourself before the local cider-savant, your request for aid trembling with the conflicting feelings of awe and contempt for this, the most obsessive of compulsives.
So finally you have your cider, or Polly Scattergood (album) by Polly Scattergood (musician), as the case may be.
But then there are manners… This is someone else’s site, be polite, wipe your feet, say please and thank you at all appropriate junctures… What’s their policy on swearing? Do they have a pet to circumnavigate?
Being on your best behaviour, is the point.
“Thank him for having you…” (Internal/interminable dialogue with voice of deceased/irritating matriarchal figure, poss. Cilla Black or one of them off of Loose Women)¹
“Thank you for having me.”
In geopolitical terms, (the extended cider simile is now over) 2010 has been a year of consolidating my gains, with only slow and slight encroachment into new territories, and all-out annexations being a dim and distant memory.
So, onto the review proper, having spent only two-hundred and eighty-two words on preamble.
As is the case with most, even vaguely distinctive, artists there’s already a critical vocabulary by which we can shorthand discussion of Polly Scattergood (musician), so rather than resort to my Roget’s I’m going to tackle these preconceptions head on with my “Thom Dicomidis’ Annotated Idiomatic Dictionary of P. Scattergood (musician)”²
Thom Dicomidis’ Annotated Idiomatic Dictionary of P. Scattergood (musician)
Another F**king Singer-Songwriter (improper noun):
An addition to the already overcrowded market of (esp. female) musicians who write and sing all their own music and who haven’t employed their friends to stand behind them at gigs feeling vaguely wasted.
I’ll admit that I have a weakness for the female singer-songwriter, but for everyone I adopt into my pantheon of great there are thirteen others who I can quite happily ignore. More importantly Polly Scattergood (musician) fills a niche in the field between the more folk-inspired and often earnest singer-songwriters and the electro/pop/rock of crass commercialism. Polly Scattergood (album) juxtaposes³ electronic arrangements with analogue instrumentation and, usually, an unadulterated voice.
Lyrics shot through with black humour, self-awareness and irony.
Polly Scattergood (album)’s got them. Not so heavily or so relentlessly that you want to crawl inside your own head and punch your own brain to death, but enough that they act as suitable counterweight to the more maudlin elements and tropes that being alone with a guitar tends to bring out of people.
A bit quiet and wistful, sounds which are distant, dreamlike or indistinct.
The reason I’m not fond of Polly Scattergood (album) being described as ethereal in the more usual sense is the subtextual implication that it is in some way flimsy, or transient. Despite the gentle hand employed in its construction I’m not sure that ethereal, absent reformation through neologism, is the correct word, even as shorthand for so many others. If nothing else to describe Polly Scattergood (album) this way ignores the majority of the actual music, which is often percussive and driving, in favour of an impression which seems more about marking the album out as emotionally sensitive than discussing it’s actually character, which is more intricate, interesting and variable than any tangle of keywords, tags or jargon could really express.
Fragile (another adjective):
A sometimes synonym for ethereal.
Alright, not quite. Where the arrangement on Polly Scattergood (album) is often ethereal it’s Polly Scattergood (musician)’s voice which would best be described as fragile. Or perhaps faltering? Most of the emotive weight of the music is borne on a voice which, as often as it sounds strong and confident, appears on the very cusp of fracturing. Like glass with a fine filigree of cracks running through it Polly Scattergood (musician)’s vocals on tracks like Other Too Endless and, more noticeably, Breathe In Breathe Out seem beautiful because of their delicate imperfections.
The pairing of previously unattached ideas, styles and concepts in a way which unsettles fans of chart music.
Whilst Polly Scattergood (album) isn’t the revolutionary work the above definition might be best suited for it is offbeat and odd enough to warrant some amount of being called weird. Something about it speaks to me of songs for the emotional Diaspora*, the facets of Polly Scattergood (musician) explored piecemeal, rather than as a uniform or even project. I like it, is what I’m getting at.
Like weird, but without the judgemental overtones. Or perhaps with a hint of apologetic acceptance. Also an adjective used for people who are self-consciously attempting to distinguish themselves from their boring friends by being irritating.
I’m going to stick with weird for Polly Scattergood (album) out of respect for Polly Scattergood (musician). Although the ranting bit at the end of I Hate The Way is a bit annoying and weird.
Of course, as my teachers used to insist, you won’t learn much just reading the dictionary, so I’ll summarise. Polly Scattergood (album) is all of the thing’s it’s typically described as, much to my chagrin. There are stand-out tracks and weaker ones, the more traditionally arranged and overtly miserable Poem Song being one of the latter, and it’s no use for running… But in a year where I’ve listened to very little in the way of new music, this album has worn a groove in my brain and taken its place amongst the (current) perennials. And there’s clapping on Please Don’t Touch.
“Now thank him for having you…”
“I know the social conventions, stop embarrassing me… Thank you for having me, T.I.S.A.R.”***
1) Apologies for anyone who panicked at the thought that Cilla Black might actually be dead
2) Patent pending.
3) This is the most reviewerly word I know. (with apologies to Roland Barthes)
*) All this to avoid a scattered/Scattergood inadvertent wordplay scenario.
**) Admittedly it’s a very short Annotated Idiomatic Dictionary.
***) A second apology for flitting between so many stylistic affectations like a chaffinch on crack.