Self Esteem: Compliments Please review – sly, covetous pop


Pop runs on outsized emotions, but too often they’re couched in relatively safe musical settings. The debut album by Self Esteem – AKA Rebecca Taylor, formerly of Slow Club – finds her translating some compellingly unflattering lyrics about her actions during a break-up into wild, ambitious pop that’s a million miles from her old band’s steady descent into Radio 2 pleasantries. She is needy, vengeful, sly and covetous across these 16 songs, sentiments often delivered in falsetto lurches and supported by hefty backing vocals that underpin the sense of Taylor as a formidable presence. “What does it matter / She hated me the whole time,” she sings of her ex’s mother on Steady I Stand, letting out her unfettered indignation in great, belting swoops.

This full-frontal approach could become too much, but Taylor balances her forcefulness with elegant and impactful production that veers from bluesy experimentalism to psychedelic soul. She often sings over sparse, clattering drums; on I’m Shy, her calm, hesitant verses are interrupted with snatches of falsetto and synthesised blurts, indicating some unwelcome emotional interruption. Compliments Please is too long, and possibly too diffuse for a wholly satisfactory listen, yet it works as a display of ambition rather than a haphazard grab bag: the cold drama and sharp strings of Favourite Problem, and the way Peach You Had to Pick rises from organ drone to dystopian cacophony, are undeniable. Taylor has said she has Madonna-size ambitions; a better comparison might be Fiona Apple.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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