Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel review – sharp barbs and no holds barred

(Milk!/Mom + Pop/Marathon Records)

Courtney Barnett’s music is so full of seemingly stumbled-upon profundity that it’s tempting to believe you could have written it yourself. But as she well knows, it is deceptively difficult to sound as though you’re barely trying. “He said, ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup / And spit out better words than you’,” she sings on her new album, Tell Me How You Really Feel (a request dripping with sarcasm). “But you didn’t. And you’re kidding yourself if you think the world revolves around you.”

There is a sharp edge to much of the Australian musician’s brilliant, potent second album, the follow-up to 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. The matter-of-fact malaise of her debut remains, but where before it felt aimless, here it has hardened into something pointed and direct. In Nameless, Faceless, Barnett paraphrases Margaret Atwood to rail against patriarchal violence. “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them,” she sings over corrosive guitar licks, her voice fed through a megaphone to sound like a battle cry. “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them.” The pure, reflexive rage spills over into the Hole-channelling I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch, on which she announces, “I can only put up with so much shit.”

The source of Barnett’s frustration is a moving target though – and she is both fuelled and exhausted by it. Need a Little Time, whose melody is at once bright and flat, feels like a conversation with herself: “You seem to have the weight of the world upon your bony shoulders.” The peppy isolationist anthem City Looks Pretty is conflicted too, dabbling in optimism and nihilism, succumbing to neither: “Sometimes I get sad / It’s not all that bad / One day, maybe never / I’ll come around.”

As much as finding a neat conclusion might lighten that mental load, Barnett has none to offer here. All she can do is show her workings, but leave the problems unanswered.


Alexandra Pollard

The GuardianTramp

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