The title of the second studio effort by English singer-songwriter Polly Scattergood (her actual name!) is intriguing. Arrows means and manages to encompass two meanings: the arrows of love shot by Cupid and the arrows shot in battle.
Cocoon is a gentle, atmospheric and memorable opener to the album, with catchy hooks in ’my cocoon of angel wings’ and ‘I’m gonna let you in’. Listeners who have the acquired taste in the high-pitched, raspy vocals of female singer-songwriters like Ellie Goulding, Kate Miller-Heidke and Sarah Blasko will appreciate Scattergood’s wispy, soothing vocals. This track shines, as it creates a sense of triumph whilst simultaneously setting the subdued tone throughout the album.
Retro, 1980s sounds are plentiful in tracks like Falling (whose sinister verses recall Depeche Mode and Kate Bush’s 1986 single, Experimental IV) and Disco Damaged Kid (which sounds like the aftermath of a disco party with its bouncy beat, synths evocative of Vangelis’ theme to the film Chariots of Fire and UFO noises).
Despite these bursts of upbeat arrangements, Scattergood’s vulnerability is apparent throughout Arrows. Machines has Scattergood pleading for her humanity. The introspective ballad Miss You (which deals with the aftermath of a breakup) is particularly heart wrenching. Scattergood’s naked voice wavers over a sparse piano and eerie synth arrangement, whilst dishing out some brutal words (‘I was waiting…for a phone call…a sign…to tell me that I was fine’, ‘you forgot to say you loved me’). Listeners can even hear the piano pedals moving. This suggests that Scattergood laid herself bare on the piano during the recording session and decided to do the same to her listeners by keeping the recording (somewhat) untouched. Thus, Miss You is another highlight on Arrows.
Subsequently Lost lifts the mood slightly and features more 1980s disco synths and drum machines. As Scattergood sings about losing her mind, it is at this point where Arrows takes on a sinister tone. There’s even a scowl in her vocals in Silver Lining, which features ‘broken china cups’, an bizarre spoken section and some disturbing noises that sound like some Doctor Who villain.
Wanderlust has some cool synths that The Killers would use, but falls flat as a single. Fortunately, Arrows closes very nicely with I’ve Got A Heart, another down-trodden piano ballad with some obvious pedal pressing. Scattergood is especially exposed here, as she almost talks rather than sings about her life as an artist with lines like ‘I might drink the day away’, ‘I’ve got a soul, as it’s sad as they come’ and ‘keep writing s— until I fall asleep’. Just as listeners are taken by the beauty in Scattergood’s performance and the string section, there’s an overloaded instrument straight out of the end of Radiohead’s Karma Police sounds like a exorcism hidden away in the background.
Despite the odd boring moment, Arrows is a wondrous record that probably would have been therapeutic for Scattergood and takes listeners through different atmospheres, moods and landscapes.
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