Album Review: Courtney Barnett - 'Tell Me How You Really Feel' (Milk!/Marathon)
Australia's supreme rock laureate takes aim with her wrywit on sophomore LP.
All the barbed wit, sardonic humour and Cobain riffing contained within Courtney Barnett's debut album firmly cemented her as a new indie-rock icon back in 2016 - with Brit award nominations and top 20 chart entries in Aus, US and UK to back it up. That initial success attained, surely the pressure to repeat the process was on Barnett with her sophomore LP, but if the second album self-doubt crept in - it certainly hasn't shown up in the quality of her output.
Something has certainly has been getting on Barnett's goat between then and now - the ever-present mellow malaise still has no particular direction on her latest offering with everyone and nobody, in particular, stung by her wry observations on the mundane aspects of our modern human condition. The same razor-sharp edge present on Sometimes I Just Sit, Sometimes I just Think is laser-honed on Tell Me How You Really Feel, the art perfected.
“No-one’s born to hate – we learn it somewhere along the way.” Off to an angsty start lyrically, but this is juxtaposed with a laid-back Dylan style of delivery - that quirk that makes the Australian slacker-queen so unique. Barnett touches upon her struggles with mental health and anxiety on 'City Looks Pretty' writing about issues of fame and isolation: “Friends treat you like a stranger and strangers treat you like their best friend” and the inconclusive “Sometimes I get sad - It’s not all that bad - One day, maybe never - I’ll come around.”
'Nameless, Faceless' is Barnett at her most cutting and lethal as she takes inspiration from Margaret Atwood to chide against patriarchal misogyny. “I wanna walk through the park in the dark - Men are scared that women will laugh at them - I wanna walk through the park in the dark - Women are scared that men will kill them.”
Under all the unease on Tell Me How You Really Feel, there is a strong sense that Barnett is never weighted down by the discomfort she talks about, her buoyant coping strategy - “Take your broken heart - Turn it into art” as she sweetly lullabies on 'Hopefullessness'.