Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2018-05-18
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett’s new album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, should come with a warning label.  There are no songs about organic vegetables.  No songs about dull suburban living.  No songs of senoritas and margaritas.  You have not arrived here to have fun or hear droll observations on daily living.  Given the cover art that looks as if you are wearing infrared goggles and stumbled into Barnett hiding out in a cave,  Tell Me How You Really Feel is decidedly darker than Barnett’s previous output.  Not that Barnett didn’t take a few swipes along the way to this point, but with song titles like ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ and ‘Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence’, neither of which is meant to be ironic, she has quite a bit to get off her chest.  

Opening with one of the album’s best tracks, ‘Hopefulessness’ has a slowly rolled out cadence reminiscent of her year hanging out with Kurt Vile.  If anyone can stretch out a song to eight minutes and make you wish it was twelve it’s Vile, and here Barnett pushes the five minute mark and makes it infinitely interesting.  To borrow the song title’s noun-to-adjective-to-noun inventiveness, Barnett’s hyper-literateness is fully intact with the track chock-full of great lines. “Take your broken heart, turn it into art” and “empty bottle blues, sleep in different rooms” show a different kind of ache in effect.  From the discordant opening notes to the feedback squall and tea kettle scream of the finish, Barnett is only beginning to churn up the muck.  It’s a perfect opener to prepare for the rough waters ahead.  The more energetic ‘City Looks Pretty’ follows (the chugging melody of which oddly gets me thinking of Band of Horse’s ‘Casual Party’), but its style covers up more angst.  Maybe getting outside after being “indoors 23 days, ignored all your phone calls” is a good idea though.  

In Barnett’s current funk, everyone’s a target herself included.  Although she takes aim at her critics on the punchy ‘Need a Little Time’ - “I don’t know a lot about you, but you seem to know a lot about me” and “everybody wants a little, waiting for a car crash”, she also needs “a little time out from me”.  The winter of discontent seems to have fully settled on what seemed to be a generally sunny, if not a little wry, disposition.  Though ‘Nameless, Faceless’ has a bit of her sing-song trademark feel, the lyrics tell of the dark underbelly of gender dynamics.  Borrowing a line from Margaret Atwood - men hate to be laughed at, women fear of being killed, by the opposite sex in each case.  Envisioning Barnett with a car key gripped between her fingers walking through the park at night is much more viscerally brutal than a pepper spray spritzer.

While a few of the above songs and the closing track may have been influenced by her hippy friend from Philly, there are many more here that have a sinister bite to them.  ‘Charity’ is coiled tight and drives hard with its sarcastic “everything’s amazing” chorus.  The slinky start of ‘Help Your Self’ turns into an Adrian Belew influenced skronk-fest at its end.  And though maybe the briefest song, ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ is blazingly confrontational in its under two minute span.  The rockabilly/punk thrashing style of the song has Barnett attacking her guitar and spitting out “put up or shut up” to the target of her ire.  Not something to be on the receiving end of.  

The music if not the mood turns a bit brighter on the closing two songs.  The friendlier sounding shuffle of ‘Walkin’ on Eggshells’ has Barnett’s foot coming off the throat and admitting “I don’t want to hurt your feelings”.  Colored by piano and steel guitar she shows some empathy towards two lovers in the eternal dance of saying what you feel vs saying what doesn’t offend.  The meandering closer of ‘Sunday Roast’ shifts mid-way into a sparkly finish to a decidedly darker album.  As if Barnett is giving a bit of a wink at the end that she is not entirely fed up and that maybe there is a silver lining in the cloud.  Ultimately Tell Me How You Really Feel showcases that Barnett is one of the top songwriters of the day who has plenty to say and a lot of runway ahead to say it.  She’s also here to let us know that in spite of all the motivational posters to the contrary that not everyday is going to be your best day - and that’s okay.  It’s even more okay if you can channel  that through all manner of expression on a Fender electric.                 

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