Music Reviews
Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett Tell Me How You Really Feel

(Mom + Pop) Rating - 8/10

Courtney Barnett is done telling stories on Tell Me How You Really Feel. The Australian singer-songwriter, ever the detailed narrator, has an uncanny way of slipping in her precocious wit without any notice. But whether you're paying attention or not, Barnett will strike with a bevy of amusing remarks, which often enhance her deviations into different forms of classic rock. That unmistakable trait is rare to find even in the staunchest of singer-songwriters, whose even-tempered guitar strums come elegantly packaged but often display empty, lovelorn laments that come dead on arrival.

Barnett has never been the most optimistic one, given how she often puts all sorts of doubts into her mind. On Tell Me How You Really Feel, that self-defeating energy comes with a broadened sense of honesty. It may sound like a drag on first single Nameless, Faceless, where a descending guitar arrangement makes a mockery out of the those who feel the privilege to criticize when they're not at your presence. She doesn't reveal the cause or reason for her discomfort - which is uncharacteristic of her - but as her similarly calibrated Pedestrian at Best, she channels all that vexing mental energy into her anxieties.

As it is with artists who are reaching the more established phase of their career, Barnett exerts more of her autonomy while she considers the implications of gaining that acceptance. In truth, she wants to shun the expected autobiographical angle without dismissing the realities that shape her day to day life. The grim, chunky chords of Hopefulessness are a testament to that contrast, where she sounds like she's making the best out of a humdrum routine where the only consolation is to "Take your broken heart / Turn it into art." It takes even more of a toll on Need a Little Time, where she imagines her gradual decay over her unceasing exhaustion: "Open up your insides, show us / Your innermost lecherous." it also features one of the album's most inspired solos.

It may seem like a heartless gesture to feel indifferent about the trials of success, and for the most part, she doesn't complain about her fans. Most of these are songs that retain her slack affirmations, except that they show their appeal with a more acidic disposition - on I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch, she lets out a furious power chord - the closest she's come to Nirvana - as she empowers those who've ever felt demeaned for any good reason. Whereas on the jammy, tension-free Walkin' on Eggshells, she tries to have a moment of reflection even if her body wants to give out: "Gimme dreams upstream / Lower Daltian screaming." Barnett isn't just trying to heal herself; she's also advocating for others to do the same.

As dispiriting as Tell Me How You Really Feel translates, Barnett still captures a burning, heartfelt clarity that she readily gives herself over to her bandmates. The dynamic chord changes of City Looks Pretty are both evocative and playful, where a glancing Barnett finds some comfort in a city that feels anonymous to her over a flighty motorik groove and some freakout guitar lines. Otherwise, the fun, roots-rock chug of Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence - with a title so alarmingly dense you'd wish you could give her some comfort - shows a confused Barnett who's not making much progress trying to make conversation with an unreliable companion. It's more musically inclined with the serviceable romp of Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit tracks like Aqua Profunda! and Elevator Operator.

So maybe Barnett has turned down the humor and the incisive quips on Tell Me How You Really Feel. Still, the performances are muscular and attention-grabbing, and the melodies built around her distress take new and zestful contours. It's a lateral move for a songwriter who's been praised for her past witticisms, even if her natural instinct for empathy has quietly been a continuing trademark of her work. At the end of the album, she concludes with some parting thoughts for a friend who's also down in the dumps. Barnett has written a long vent session for us to take notice, but it doesn't mean that she wouldn't do the same for us, either.