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The Pleasure Principle Self Esteem begins with this

The Pleasure Principle

Self Esteem begins with this

by Jay Lewis, Reviews Editor
first published: October, 2021

approximate reading time: minutes

Imagine Gwen Stefani's 'Hollaback Girl' relocated to Sheffield and delivered by someone expressing '...34 years of anger and frustration at the hands of you men...'

Self Esteem
Prioritise Pleasure

It's one of the most arresting performances of the year!  In the otherwise facile world of pop videos, it is high art.  Within the first minute of the video for 'I Do This All The Time' the first single from Self Esteem's 'Prioritise Pleasure' album,  Rebecca Lucy Taylor is looking straight at the camera, she is talking directly to you (yes, you!) as if you were the sole cause of all this pain.  There is no fourth wall. Don't dare look away, she has a lot more to say.

Like most of the songs here 'I Do This All The Time' is unflinchingly honest and doesn't pull any punches.
Take album opener 'I'm Fine' as an example, it's a brave response to an abuser 'Yeah, you scare me, does that make you feel manly?'  The music is stark, minimal. It serves the message well.  Taylor addresses the agony caused by the abuse 'Do you understand the pain you cause When you see a body just for sport?' It is a breathtaking way to start. 

'Hobbies 2' is a huge slab of percussive pop. Taylor delivers her most soaring R'n'B vocal on a tale of a casual rendezvous ('Let's... admit that we both can't do deeper than this),  and there are even more emotional shortcomings exposed on the pre-breakup ballad 'Still Reigning,'   the sense of regret underlined by the dramatic swoop of strings towards the close of the song.  

The title track feels like the album's most ambitious production. Here is a song of leaving an old self behind ('All the fucked up shit I did / thinking it would make me happy / Very little of it did, really) and embracing a new, more liberated version of yourself.  'Prioritise Pleasure' is a swaggering ode to moving out of the darkness and into the light. The verses break into the fabulous juxtaposition of a gospel choir and a blast of electro noise in the chorus.  It's a jolt to the system - a cry for release. And it's just a shame that the verse where Taylor breaks out the straightjacket guilt to find joy, defiance, and, err, pleasure won't ever get played on the radio. 

'How Can I Help You?' is another burst of drum-led dynamite. Imagine Gwen Stefani's 'Hollaback Girl' relocated to Sheffield and delivered by someone expressing '...34 years of anger and frustration at the hands of you men...' It is a lacerating swipe at both the misogyny and objectification of women that she's encountered (I'd hazard a guess that this is both inside and outside the grim world of music).

'Prioritise Pleasure' is an exceptional collection of songs. Taylor is simply in a different league to those dreary men in bands who are shouting themselves hoarse at one another.  Taylor is so much sharper than all of that.  Insatiable pop-smart songs, piercing lyrics and a voice that demands that you pay attention. Self Esteem have made one of the best albums of the year.

Jay Lewis
Reviews Editor

Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based poet. He's also a music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.

about Jay Lewis »»



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