Album Review: Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018)

By Paul Rigg

Transforming vulnerability into strength   

There is something very endearing about a woman who is on the one hand a sensitive lyricist and highly talented composer but on the other is laid back, does everything on her own terms, and manages to transmit great strength while talking about her own vulnerabilities. In sum, Australian Courtney Barnett (born 3 November 1987) is a woman for our times.

In a world full of insecurity and confusion, it is perhaps a little tempting to rush to turn her into a hero and search for wisdom in her every word, but Barnett is already sagely and amusingly one step ahead. I don't know anything!” she cries on the track entitled Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence (which incidentally also features The Breeder’s Kim Deal).

Barnett’s second album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, released on 18 May 2018, is more confident and intimate than her debut, but contains the same skillful melding of intense and humorous lyrics as well as great guitar riffs and catchy melodies.


On the oustanding first single from the album, Nameless, Faceless, released
15 February, Barnett references a troll who had sent her a message saying: ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you’; her response is to include his text in her song and respond by saying: ‘but you didn’t […] you’re kidding yourself’.  She then gives the exchange a much broader and sharper context by darkly singing along to a cheery melody: ‘men are scared that women will laugh at them,’ but ‘women are scared that men will kill them.’

The next single release Need a Little Time was soon followed by the fantastic City Looks Pretty, released on 19 April. Here, to the hum of some droning guitars, Barnett addresses the challenges of fame head on:
The city looks pretty when you been indoors, for 23 days I've ignored all your phone calls’ and ‘Friends treat you like a stranger, and strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well.’


The track I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch might be read as a straightforward feminist critique; perhaps particularly addressed at misogynist rap lyricists. But then with the addition of the words:
I hear you mutter under your breath,’ the song takes on an entirely new dimension; and Barnett’s skill as a multi-layered lyricist becomes evident.

On Charity Barnett seems to be offering solace to a friend: ‘You don’t have to pretend you’re not scared, everyone else is just as terrified as you’ accompanied by some chaotic sounding guitar playing, on her
Fender Jaguar.


The last tune on the album Sunday Roast is another heartfelt supportive ode to a friend: ‘keep on keeping on, you know you’re not alone’ she sings accompanied by
some circular guitar picking.

That message ties in with the opening track Hopefulessness, where Barnett sings: ‘
Take your broken heart, turn it into art […] your vulnerability [is] stronger than it seems.’ Despite her explicit protestations to the contrary, Barnett’s fans are finding both comfort and wisdom in her words, and as a result – with good reason - her star just keeps on rising.