Released: 18th May 2018
In the build-up to the release of ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’, Courtney Barnett posed that simple suggestion on her website. Fans could share their innermost thoughts directly with the Aussie songwriter – providing they could condense them to no longer than 250 characters. It would probably have been dismissed as a simple PR exercise for most artists, but not Barnett. She’s built a reputation on her earnest songwriting, brutally acerbic lyrics and wholesome tunes you can cling to when life seems to be pulling away. Quite simply, she doesn’t do bullshit.
In some ways ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’ is a slightly darker, heavier and more mature record than Barnett’s debut. Where ‘Sometimes I Sit…’ often felt like listening to an internal monologue, its follow-up is more extrospective; Barnett’s songwriting remains deeply personal, but this time she has an eye on wider themes.
In the excellent ‘Nameless, Faceless’, Barnett tackles misogyny by paraphrasing novelist Margaret Atwood: “Men are scared that women will laugh at them…women are scared that men will kill them.” In the song’s chorus, she sings about how she simply wants to walk through a park at nighttime without the fear of being attacked. The sentiment is made all the more unsettling when it reveals itself from beneath Barnett’s breezy, Aussie twang.
‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’ is littered with wry lyricisms, like on brooding opener ‘Hopefulessness’ (“You know what they say/No one’s born to hate/We learn it somewhere along the way”) or on ‘Help Your Self’ (“You’ve got a lot on your plate/Don’t let it go to waste/ Humble but hungry needs validation”).
Musically, Barnett has stuck with what she knows, and it serves its purpose; the grungy guitars and occasional punk thrash – like on ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ – don’t tread new ground. But Barnett has always been a storyteller – and, judging by this latest effort, there are currently few songwriters who can match her. We certainly feel better now Courtney, thanks for asking. Alex Thorp