27 year old British singer/songwriter Polly Scattergood’s artistic sensibilities run much deeper than those of your typical pop artist. Musically and lyrically, her songs are above-average, even on the quote unquote art pop scale. Her talent truly is that remarkable. But, she is not for everyone. (Her first album was criticized by The Guardian for “emotional melodrama.”) If songs concerning depression and love gone bad are too heavy for you, you’ll want to avoid her like the plague. But if you like brutally honest confessionals disguised as pop songs with a bit of sarcastic humor thrown into the mix, then you’re sure to fall in love with this brilliant diamond of an album that is perhaps best compared to Sia’s dark masterpiece Colour The Small One.
Arrows, which was co-written by Glen Kerrigan, opens with the warm, down-tempo electro-pop number “Cocoon,” which starts off with Polly delicately singing acapella: “From my cocoon of angel wings / From my cocoon I’m gonna let you in.” It’s probably not a stretch to state that it’s an invitation to her listeners. But it’s not without a built-in warning: “As I stumble, look away / Don’t want you to see me this way / I am no good, I am no good at all.” Her voice sounds fragile as she sings these lyrics, almost whispering them, as though she’s about to burst into tears. It’s something that will linger in your mind for hours after you’ve listened to it.
“Paranoia’s eating me / Please don’t judge me on this moment,” she begs during a brief mellow moment during the otherwise up-tempo “Falling.” It’s a very anxious song where the beats are like a racing heartbeat pounding away dangerously fast, like it just might explode. And the song is, in fact, about serious heart-break. “Oh my God, my heart is breaking / Is this what my mind’s created? / Oh my God, I think I’m falling down,” goes the mesmerizing chorus, which features rapid-fire piano and a flurry of intense drums that showcase the talent of the album’s producers, Ken and Jolyon Thomas.
Polly bathes herself in cool washes of synth over massive EDM beats on “Disco Damaged Kid.” “Don’t need saving / We never did / Someone fetch a stretcher for the disco damaged kid,” she sings with a dash of anger in her otherwise gentle voice. Of course, one wonders why they’d need a stretcher if they don’t need saving. My guess would be that the stretcher is for the kid who didn’t belong at the disco in the first place, not the people Polly refers to when she sings “we,” who are probably her fellow club kids. Then again, she soon mentions a skylight falling, so perhaps that’s why the disco kid is damaged? That it’s not clear makes the song all the more intriguing, not unlike a David Lynch film. “I have no words that I want to say / I don’t know myself that well these days,” she softly confesses later on, essentially declaring herself an unreliable witness or narrator.
“In the end, we lost our heads / forget every word I just said,” Polly whispers with her dulcet pipes just before the chorus of the slow-building, Björk-ish “Wanderlust.” With sizzling synth, funky electro-bass and snappy beats, it’s an old school electronica fan’s Goldfrapp dream. To that end, the gem of a song would almost be at home on Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry. (Fittingly, Polly recently opened for Goldfrapp.) Here, Polly once again proves thought-provoking and mysterious by inserting bits of seemingly random people talking; they sound an awful lot like the quirky characters in Richard Linklater’s Slacker.
“I’ve got a heart / I think it’s bigger than yours / Because it lets people in who constantly disappoint me,” she sings during the downtrodden chorus of the melancholic album-closer “I’ve Got A Heart,” which is crammed full of menacing self-doubt and finds Polly’s voice especially ethereal. “The doctor gave me pills to take / To stop me feeling quite so awake / To take the edge off of this big black cloud,” she sings and you’re sure to feel at least a tinge of her pain. Here, there’s somewhat less synth than on the other songs. Instead, moody strings that could pass for film score provide the background for Polly’s emotional breakdown. Her last words? “I’ve got a soul and it’s as sad as they come / Because it used to feel everything and now it’s just numb, numb, numb.”
Once you’ve finished listening to Arrows, you’re sure to feel a tad bit guilty, as though you’ve just read your mate’s diary without their permission. But you know you won’t be able to stop yourself from reading it again.
Ultimately, Arrows is a compelling snapshot of an artist who has found her voice and let it run wild. It’s not for the faint of heart, but listeners who can appreciate sometimes scathing, often self-referential lyrics should find it endearing. I should think the legions who adore Lorde would find it quite blissful.