Courtney Barnett - ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’
On tricky second album, Courtney Barnett does exactly what she says on the tin. She is telling us how she really feels, for the first time. Tell Me How You Really Feel is a wry and introspective personal saga, each song detailing a moment of the previously unseen inner workings of one of Australia’s most exciting artists.
Debut record Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit saw the sardonic observations of a twenty-something girl immortalised in bedroom indie pop. Sometimes was a cheeky and poetic album, stuffed full of wordplay and DIY hooks. Courtney has managed to evolve and mature with Tell Me How You Really Feel, but I can’t help but feel that there’s just something missing.
An all-consuming feel of love permeates the ten songs of the record more than anything else. We can tell she’s in love, every song carries a sense of weight. Album opener ‘Hopefulness’ brings us into the record with a subdued, untuned guitar section, maturing into a revolving hook overplayed by pensive croons from Courtney. Immediately followed by the upbeat ‘City Looks Pretty’, Courtney brings the camera out from inside her mind for just a second, showing us a wide shot of the inner workings of her relationships. Placing a concrete juxtaposition both with the opening two songs of the album and inside ‘City Looks Pretty’ itself, Courtney introduces the themes of the record to her listener with haste. Instantly parading the interiority of Tell Me How You Really Feel, already by third song ‘Charity’, it’s certain that this is a record on the reconfiguration of adult romance.
With the camera flipped, it’s somehow difficult for the clever wordplay and poetic lyrics of Sometimes I Sit to be equalled. Each song lacks the sarcastic and metaphoric lyrics of Courtney’s debut, instead offering personal musings. Whilst not necessarily a negative thing, and possibly something showcasing emotional maturity, there’s a spark gone. The lyric that sticks out most on the entire record is in lead single ‘Nameless, Faceless’, without a doubt the strongest song on the album; “Men are scared that women will laugh at them/I wanna walk through the park in the dark/women are scared that men will kill them”. This is a Margaret Atwood quote, slightly altered from its origin of “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”. Although this isn’t an original lyric, it tells us the thing Courtney Barnett is loved for—the deeply intelligent social commentary rife in her music.
In the latter half of the album, there are clear influences from all walks of music. ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ is a homage to punk, with the angst tangible across its three minutes. ‘Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence’ features the titular lyric, a distant “tell me how you really feel”, followed by a closer “I don’t know/I don’t know anything”, playing with the struggles of adults both young and old. The whole record carries a sense of this aforementioned maturity, each song is carefully structured, performed, and meant, with diary-like lyrics and often bluesy or punky hooks overlaying the music. A couple of songs are lacking the oomph of Sometimes I Sit and extended EP A Sea of Split Peas, and a couple sound like they should be for someone else (‘Help Your Self’ screams Kurt Vile, and ‘Walking On Eggshells’ seems to be a denser ‘Elevator Operator’), but the evolution of both the personality and musical persona of Courtney Barnett doesn’t mean this is a flaw in her work.
Yes, there are fewer hooks and catchy choruses on Tell Me How You Really Feel, and there are fewer scathing lyrical moments, but that’s what I like about the record. It’s older, as Courtney is. It’s more mature, as Courtney is. There’s something itchingly satisfying about how none of the songs of Sometimes I Sit would sound right on this record, and vice versa. This is such an introspective album, and you can’t make a pop hook like that or play with words or tell observational tongue-in-cheek stories when everything is so hauntingly personal. There’s been monumental artistic development, and it ensures Courtney Barnett remains marked out as one of the best songwriters of her generation. 7/10.