Emma Pollock – Watch The Fireworks

Emma Pollock
Watch The Fireworks

With the separation of The Delgados in 2005 came a mound of mixed feelings. On the one hand, the band had seemingly run its course; nothing it seemed could top the sturdy low-key sparkle of 1999’s Peloton or the epic reach of 2000’s The Great Eastern, the dividing-line between Emma Pollock’s rich charismatic tones and Alun Woodward’s weedy nasal drone had grown into chasm on 2002’s lumbering overproduced Hate, and the lust to progress seemed to dissipate with 2004’s somewhat retrograde (but face-saving) indie-pop swansong, Universal Audio. But there was also a deep sense of unfinished business; Pollock’s enigmatic talents still held potential for a solo afterlife, certainly if there were to be a fresher sonic palette to draw from and if a bigger label could help propel a more ambitious momentum. Such conflicting emotions swirl at the very heart of Pollock’s first solo album.

On many levels, Watch The Fireworks is undoubtedly a determined and brave step-outwards for Pollock. Signing to the much-loved 4AD avoids the conflicts of interests inherent in releasing records through Chemikal Underground – the Scottish label she has run with her now former bandmates since the mid-‘90s. Enrolling a production ‘legend’ in the shape of erstwhile Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Beth Orton knob-twiddler Victor Van Vugt smacks of a resolve to work with someone willing and able to challenge her established working-practices. Whilst leaving the mixing duties to Jeremy Wheatley (Razorlight, Corinne Bailey Rae) certainly suggests that reclusive indiedom is not where Pollock wants to remain, even if it alienates some of her older fan-base just on principle. Such moves certainly have made a decisive mark on this collection, not least in the luxuriant Vaughan Oliver-designed packaging. The meaty hooks of the singles – “Acid Test” and “Adrenaline” – undoubtedly show Pollock is comfortable with a stab at commerciality. There’s some tantalising new ground dug out too; the opening “New Land” sets Pollock to waltz-time drums and the swirl of Flaming Lips-style keyboard fuzz, whilst the lush elaborate “Fortune” multi-tracks her vocals into a DIY choral affair that recalls Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain. Elsewhere, the handclap-adorned shimmy of the swooning “Here Comes The Heartbreak” and the stomp-along dynamics of “You’ll Come Around” recall the likes of The Sundays, The Breeders and Tanya Donelly at their most deliberately melodic.

However, whereas a fair percentage of the album is about moving-on, there’s still a lot linking Pollock to her history, both musically and lyrically. Many songs are dense with acknowledged references to the Delgados’ dissolution and are somewhat lacking in the tight wordplay needed to enable the choruses to reel in the less-committed listener. The blur of chiming guitars and swooping orchestrations make “Paper And Glue” and “If Silence Means That Much To You” easily interchangeable with many of the Pollock-led songs on The Great Eastern, suggesting that old habits die hard. Not that self-plagiarisation is entirely unwelcome though, given that the delicate skeletal acoustics of “Limbs” and “This Rope’s Getting Tighter” swim in the same stream as The Delgados’ most subtly bewitching moments, such as the elegant “Pull The Wires From The Wall” from Peloton. Suffice to say then, Pollock’s ‘inherited’ following won’t be too alienated by such connections to The Delgados’ back catalogue, even if they dent her attempts at an artistic rebirth.

Altogether, Watch The Fireworks is neither a big revelation nor a reason to be fearful. It leads Emma Pollock to a turning point, one which could lead to a creatively prosperous future, if only she can just overcome the inertia pulling things back to her past.