In an age where imperfections are far better airbrushed; where followers are a currency for self-worth; where we are forced to measure up and compare, it would be fitting – if not, exceptionally honest – for Self Esteem’s Rebecca Taylor to name her first debut album Compliments Please.
Taylor’s struggles with self-doubt and insecurities is the stuff this record is born of. She lays these bare in a way that is far more than unapologetic: it is brazen. She takes the sugar-coating and cuts it mercilessly out. Compliments Please is no nonsense: she confronts what we all want but are too afraid to ask for. “I wanted to make pop music for my fellow flawed, squashed and disgusting humans having a go at life,” she said. There’s something downright admirable about that.
Compliments Please was made from the scattered debris of Slow Club. Taylor found that being one half of the acclaimed duo was suffocating, rather than collaborative. Ploughing out light, meandering indie tracks in the end felt more like a compromise; she felt reduced, like a “meek” version of herself. The opening track, ‘(Feelings)’ is bracketed almost as if it’s an aside, but those thirty seconds of a snippet of conversation contain everything Taylor felt about the musical cocoon that consumed the last ten years of her life. “When you’re in a band, not everyone wants the same thing you want […] You’re trying to go up, further – so you have to make a decision and not worry about hurting somebody’s feelings.”
‘Pop’ is still something of a dirty word, but Taylor wears her genre proudly on her sleeve. However, her sound is far sparser than the bubblegum confections of Charli XCX and Scandi-pop’s Sigrid who dominate the field. The focus is on her vocals, pure and crisp; the instrumental dissolves into the backdrop. However, on the likes of ‘Girl Crush’, the thrill of violin strings gives the clattering drums much-needed substance.
The production is unlike anything you’d be likely to encounter in the realm of pop music. The record is either minimal or somewhat unfinished, depending on how this approach settles with you. Rather than coming across as a seamless, smooth album, it strikes you more as a patchwork of incongruent sounds.
Compliments Please is a 16-track odyssey, which is staggeringly long – too long – for a pop record. But Taylor has a lot to say: these intimate revelations about her actions during a failed relationship are like reading her diary – asking her to cap what she wants to say for the sake of our feeble attention spans would be reductive.
“So I’m going to get drunk, and slag you off / Then I’m gonna go home and eat my feelings up” she sings, her usually crystalline voice sapped with autotune. Taylor has no earth-shattering revelations to make: her message is endlessly relatable, inspired by experiences we can all tap into.
Drawing on the sumptuous choir to accompany Taylor’s own rich vocals is a triumph on the likes of ‘Monster’. This, combined with a sparkling instrumental and heavy bassline, gives the track the distinction of being the most multi-dimensional on the album. Unlike the rest of the tracks, the layers on ‘Monster’ seem to blend together smoothly, rather than feeling like mismatching jigsaw pieces being jammed into the puzzle.
Self Esteem plays with a spectrum of moods and tones: ‘She Reigns’ is saturnine, with looming bass strings and an appreciation of playing with the speed of its delivery. It’s sophisticated enough to compliment her own powerful voice, when much of the album does it a disservice.
Taylor has lofty ambition for Self Esteem, but Compliments Please hones its focus on self-expression and catharsis rather than creating an album of merit. Her good intentions and talent have laid the foundations for what promises to be the beginning of a rewarding path for Taylor, but as it stands, she may have missed the mark.
Listen to Compliments Please right here.