Music Reviews
Prioritise Pleasure

Self Esteem Prioritise Pleasure

(Fiction Records) Rating - 9/10

There’s an inevitable stage in most artist’s careers where they run out of new things to say. A writer can only mine the past for inspiration for so long, and any success only widens the gap between musician and listener.  And yet, now into the second decade of her career and with her seventh album, Rebecca Taylor has more to say than ever.

In a year of reserved, stripped-back pop albums, Prioritise Pleasure feels like a bolt from the blue. Taylor’s second album under the Self Esteem moniker deploys strings, choirs, and heavy drums to create a record that often borders on ridiculous but ensures its message never gets lost. In a typical display of both, a refrain of “I don’t know shit” bounces around How Can I Help You—a song about being expected to nod along in a relationship without a second thought.

There’s hardly a wasted lyric on the album’s thirteen songs. On Fucking Wizardry, she jokes about the sad efforts of an ex trying to reconcile by pretending nothing had happened, followed by the body blow of “I cannot stress this enough / You'll never know how to love.” On Moody, she laughs about sexting while at a mental health talk. There are plenty of albums that reference dating apps and social media, but few will ever get to the heart of the depressing culture its created as well as Taylor manages.

Much of this album is about Taylor being proud of escaping shame that she had been made to feel—whether it's in relationships, the music industry, or the world at large. But in accepting her own flaws (a need to be braver in pulling away, her reimagining of the past), the album remains as intimate as her peers’ more restrained efforts. There are plenty of quotable putdowns and biting jokes, but the album forms a compelling statement—one that encapsulates Taylor’s rage and the empowerment of no longer having to chase after affection.

The grand closer Just Kids reflects on exactly that, on which Taylor outlines the excitement of meeting a partner before the relationship suddenly went cold and reflecting on the much wider consequences of how she perceived herself. With Prioritise Pleasure, Taylor has likely coined enough slogans to retire on t-shirt sales alone, but it’s also one of the most insightful pop records this year.

The album can feel overwhelming in parts, but a quieter second half featuring the stunning John Elton means it feels much shorter than its 45 minute run. And if you need to get an idea of the album in a much shorter jolt, I Do This All Time is a perfect encapsulation of what makes the Prioritise Pleasure so remarkable. Taylor’s sing-speak monologue is addressed to her younger self, which has a stark openness—from being guilty about dodging an ex who made her resentful to the prison-like advice she gives herself (“Be wary of the favours that they do for you.”) 

It continues into criticism of the music industry—which casts off women who refuse to play the game—with the ending verse “One day I would love to tell you how the best night of your life was the absolute worst of mine”—a line so bold it can make a listener’s stomach drop. And yet, Taylor is strengthened by a choir during its chorus and by its outro. She stands tall and proud, and finally looks forward. It’s a sign she’s moved beyond living to fit into other people’s boxes, but putting herself first. That might be a doomed endeavour, but it’ll be a lot more fun. [Believe the Hype]