Kidnapped by Neptune sees Emma ‘Scout’ Niblett continue along her trajectory of making records that are essentially singer/songwriter tunes, but increasingly marked by her little idiosyncrasies; each successive album propelling herself further away from generic comparisons with Cat Power and Graham Coxon. There are few songs here that play all the way through without being fractured by changes in tempo, or bursts of bare, a cappella singing. There is a lot more energy; we are treated to more of her frantic, untidy drumming, and a higher dose of boisterous guitar distortion. Although remaining true to her simplistic, stripped-down sound, the record shows greater subtlety in arrangement. Behind the raucous guitar there is often a slick bass line underpinning everything. This can probably be heard best on “Lullaby for Scout in 10 Years”, which incidentally bears striking similarities to Nirvana – including her vocals. These features may owe something to Steve Albini, who recorded it, and has clearly had a role in putting a raw, crunchy kick into her new work.
…which features Scout alternately drumming and singing
On of the most entertaining tracks (though not necessarily the most enjoyable or interesting to listen to) is “Valvoline”, which features Scout alternately drumming and singing. Even though there’s not enough there musically to sustain it for nearly three minutes, it’s an absolute pleasure to hear her repeatedly shout “I am the driver! I AM THE DRIVER!!” as loud as she possibly can, before gleefully bashing seven shades of (not necessarily in-time) crap out of her kit. It is this kind of carefree, child-like enjoyment of what she does that makes Scout Niblett such a captivating performer.
After nearly a whole album of such rough-and-ready songs, it’s a real surprise to hear “This City” tucked away near the end. Scout reveals that she can play the piano with real technical subtlety, and write and arrange quite sophisticated music. Reminiscent of a less accomplished Bartok, the notes are sparse, and tonally disjointed; yet she holds them together with a refined, flowing rubato style, and the rumbling, swelling drum rolls in the background are placed with delicacy, and knowing precision.
…maintaining her whimsical eclecticism right up to the very last
It’s sublime to hear a return to her introverted ballading in “Wolfie”. But there’s another twist in the penultimate song “Drink to Me”, when she comes out with a Slint-esque layering of quirky guitar dissonance, maintaining her whimsical eclecticism right up to the very last.
For me, Kidnapped by Neptune doesn’t match the heartmelting tenderness of her debut, Sweet Heart Fever, but that’s clearly not the point of this album. It knows it’s a brash record, and switches between styles with the willful character of a naughty child. So just get your sandpit out, make a mess, and enjoy it.