Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit presented a poet, rock folkie, and slacker hero. Courtney Barnett put across something about the Australian experience worth celebrating. Not to mention the tunes were sharp.
But this island couldn’t hold her. London, LA, and New York laid claim. Presented with an international audience there’s been little choice but to make strides. As an Australian artist she’s hit that age-old make or break; win a foothold overseas and conquer The States or simply stay at home. It’s the difference between aspiring to be Dylan and shooting for Kram from Spiderbait.
Cloaked in casual ambition without sacrificing her storyteller’s heart, Courtney Barnett will fly further than ever with Tell Me How You Really Feel.
But how do you pour that same self-intensity and dark energy into your music while inhabiting a cloistered world of touring, celebrity, transit, and hotel rooms? City Looks Pretty tells a little of that strain, but Barnett pulls miracles from the mundane.
Take Nameless, Faceless. The song talks negative video comments and walks in the park but spins these feelings of personal experience into the universal. It’s a statement documenting the strain of a woman’s identity pushed down by the malice of fragile masculinity. But speaking past this, still it’s a feeling of muted suffering and rage.
Faceless levels the type of lyric which returns half a day, a week and a month after the music stops. I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch likewise.
“Take your broken heart/Turn it into art.” Opener Hopefulessness’ looks both inward and outward at the world. It’s encircled by a swirl of languid sonics and strands of self-confession.
Then there’s the Island In The Sun–Weezer vibration of Need A Little Time and the alt rock slugfest of Charity. While not unwelcome they’re interesting turns, carefully produced for radio and a bigger audience whose ears they’ll no doubt catch. But even still there’s some great sentiments underslung.
This artist remains a storytelling hero, the kind that makes your heart ache with hers and jump when things look up. It feels like Barnett has poured everything into her previous recordings – or even just that single moment of Depreston (you could quit music and put your feet up right there) – but she returns each time with unguarded vulnerability and a casual ambition to take things further.
It works. Tell Me How You Really Feel delivers great songs, rock ‘n’ roll heart, and lyrics which come tangled in your head. Courtney Barnett’s second holds plenty of emotional reach.
It may not always hit straight down the middle, but it delivers on all expectation and then some.