Album Review: Self Esteem – 'Compliments, Please'

Self Esteem - 2018 01 - credit Charlotte Patmore.jpg

The name ‘Self Esteem’ was born out of a joke a decade ago: a satire playing on Rebecca Taylor’s insecurities around herself and her place in music. Over time the humour faded and with that, ‘Self Esteem’ began to echo a shift in Taylor’s opinion of herself. Now, it’s the rather pertinent musical-moniker she’s using to share her solo debut: Compliments, Please.

Fans might know Taylor’s name as one half of indie-folk duo Slow Club. Although there’s no bad blood, Taylor left the band feeling like a dulled version of herself: the creative compromise and external expectations that come from being part of a musical duo had taken their toll.

Rather than let her musical history sit like an awkward elephant in the corner, on Compliments, Please she addresses it from the get-go with unapologetic honesty.

‘Feelings (Interlude)’ features a voice memo recorded in the back of an Uber on Taylor's phone. An American accent cuts through an ambient soundscape, imparting advice to Taylor regarding the limitations and comprises of being in a band: "Everybody doesn't really want the same things you want / And so you keep on doing the same old thing / And other people like doing that but you tryna go up, further / So you gotta make a decision and not worry about somebody's feelings."

While lead single 'The Best' describes a failed relationship, its infectious catchy pop hook "I did the best that I could, babe / I did the best that I could" is energized with self-assurance.

Taylor exploits deft-production to imbue conflicting moods right off the bat. A low-end synth and syncopating rhythm puts a real melancholy mood in place, juxtaposing the song's otherwise airy-pop feel. It sets in motion one of Taylor's greatest triumphs with this release: an ability to marry unrepentant, dance-yourself-happy pop with bare vulnerability.

Harmonically-rich 'Steady I Stand' seamlessly drifts from a slow-tempo into a clap-lead dance anthem, bustling with hi-hats and vivacious vocals - and some excellently poised lyricism: "You wanted me needy / But I only ever need me".

‘Girl Crush’ is a challenge to performative bisexuality, exploring how the penchant of straight girls to ‘experiment’ isn’t much fun for the person who is being experimented on. For a generation that suffered the problematic nature of Katy Perry's 'I Kissed A Girl', it’s an extremely refreshing sentiment – all bundled into an astonishingly tight number.  

Skin deep, Compliments, Please reads as an unapologetically empowered pop manifesto.

But sure enough, it wavers in blunt moments of vulnerability. Dysphoria-tinged 'Rollout', sees Taylor ponder over and over “What I might have achieved, if I wasn’t trying to please", while R&B infused auto-tune cut 'In Time' takes the vulnerable nature of a break-up and turns it into a mantra of self-assurance. Taylor's experience as a drummer has been thrown into focus, making for a listen that even at its darkest times is sheer throw-your-hands-up and tap-your-feet rhythmic beauty; the symphonic equivalent of the relentless rollercoaster that self-esteem is.

Driven by resolutely energized bangers, Compliments, Please couldn’t end with anything but an almighty climax - and ‘On the Edge of Another One’ certainly provides.

The sound is stripped back to a simplistic guitar melody, a simple kick drum beat, and a stark vocal pitch-shift drenched in androgyny. It jars in the way a record skipping does; starkly different to an already symphonically-diverse album. One final line, and it goes out with a perplexing, mesmerising and utterly devastating bang: “You don’t know me but how could you? You don’t like me and why would you?”.

Compliments, Please is equal parts endlessly-playable to laugh-at-yourself relatable; a perfect pop dynamic which is so rarely struck. Taylor isn’t afraid to show the listener a good time – all the while delivering sparks of a gut-punching honesty. As a musician, she’s taken a bold step out of the shadow of her past musical endeavours and stands proud. Despite it being her debut release, Taylor is no burgeoning star: she’s fully blossomed and ready to take on the world – one self-assured banger at a time.

Words by Madeleine Dunne