As you can see the promised deluge of posts, threatened last time didn’t happen. Firstly, the music ‘industry’ is still mad. Robbed of live music, artists have taken to throwing new music into the ether on an astonishingly regular basis. Trust us, we know you’re bored/frustrated/cooped up and cranky and we’d like to help, but I was sent 157 ‘singles’ last week. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY SEVEN!
Competition is fierce. Quality control is not what it could be.
And then on top of that a deadline loomed for some sleevenotes I’d agreed to write for a really quite large American band, who are releasing a double album of sessions they recorded for my old Radio 1 show. That took longer than expected (although not as long as it’ll take to fill in the thousand American Tax forms you have to complete to allow your crummy non-US invoice to infiltrate the States).
By the start of the week, I was desperately looking to find solace in pop music for the Zillionth time, when the new SELF ESTEEM single arrived. Actually, that’s a distortion of the truth. I’d been sent it about a month ago, but the excitement of finally being able to share it with listeners generated a genuine buzz of anticipation and adrenalin (and when that stops happening, honestly, I’m off the airwaves for good).
Rebecca Lucy Taylor is – and probably always was – something of a pop music conundrum. I remember one night, after one of her appearances on 6Music’s Roundtable, back in the early-ish Slow Club days, when she was talking about a barely suppressed desire to be an actress in a soap opera and about her love of contemporary pop icons.
And yet here she was, one half of a Sheffield duo, who made good indie music: respectable, charismatic indie music, but the sort of music that was unlikely to offend the charts. Was she a boardwalk pop star trapped in the Boardwalk?
But the albums kept coming. Again, good albums, changing through the musical gears seamlessly, from late night soul/northern soul/gospel/foot stompers and heartbreakers. I went to see them touring their 4th album, ‘One Day All Of This Won’t Matter’ and it was a great night (at the Colchester Arts Centre), but Taylor’s disarming and self-deprecating humour couldn’t disguise the fact that something wasn’t right.
Taylor, on reflection, was a modern pop singer, now slightly at odds with the vintage vehicle, she’d strapped herself into. At the end of the tour, she just unbuckled the seatbelt and walked away.
Her first Self Esteem album was a new start: some of the older influences remained (she does late night confessional soul really well; and a kind of reverse Siren even better, the bewitching voice, luring herself onto the rocks). But the lyrics sat atop a selection of beats and pianos, which were more now, than they were then.
By all accounts it did OK, although not the numbers a big label would like it to, which only focused more on The Taylor Conundrum: is she too self-aware and disarmingly human to be a pure mainstream pop star these days? Is she too Modern Sounding for the audience who have grown up with her?
Were this the late ‘70s, or the mid-90s, there would surely have been room for Taylor to ease herself into the charts (her sort of over the counter, cornershop wit and rapport, which make her interviews so naturally charming, would have pretty much made this a shoe-in).
But where now? With all this in my head, I’ll be honest, I was really hoping this new record would be good. I like Taylor a lot as a person. It would have been horrible having to be one of those people who’s job it is to let her down lightly. This is one of the reasons I never make friends with musicians by the way. I can’t lie.
Especially when the career clock is ticking (which it sort of is for Taylor). And I don’t know if this past, lost year has influenced this work; or whether its allowed her time to reflect on life and (attempt to) move on; or whether in fact, this is just what she’s been building up to for the past few years – a culmination of last-ditch outpourings: but this is already one of my favourite singles of the year (and will be by the end of it too).
I mentioned this on the Recommends Show last week but it’s like she’s been uncluttering the contents of an old coat pocket…or a wallet which is full of scraps of paper…..and trying to make sense of where she’s been and what’s still important…”
People rightly have mentioned Baz Lurhman’s ‘Sunscreen’ as an influence, but Lurhman’s advice, sounds like it’s coming from a man distanced and older, even wiser maybe, looking back on the battleground of youth; Taylor however is coming from the here and now; this is a list of assertions and fallibilities from someone still in the same boat; maybe more experienced but maybe not that much wiser.
It’s a brave, personal statement to set up the album and deserves a break: it’s certainly nothing like the other 156 records in the pile.