Tell Me How You Really Feel keeps Courtney Barnett’s traditional bluesy music and dials up the lyrical content with relevance, satire and a level of honesty that is rare to find in hits nowadays. Barnett’s charm not only comes from her beautifully crafted lyrics, but musical style. A blend of influences from Ryan Adams, and Wilco, to the giants of blues, combine with the Australian singer/songwriter’s effortless garage/basement show aesthetic. The follow up to her 2015 debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, is an absolute gem.
With an opening track titled ‘Hopelessness’ you get a sense for album right off the bat. Her lyrical content is both heart wrenching and heart warming (depending on your perceptive of “sad music”), but nevertheless brings a fresh and creative way of expressing true human emotion, as showcased perfectly in the opening lines; “Your vulnerability, Stronger than it seems, You know it’s okay to have a bad day” and “You know what they say, No one is born to hate, We learn it somewhere along the way, Take your broken heart, Turn it into art”. The opener is easily a standout track.
Flowing seamlessly into ‘City Looks Pretty’, the record soon puts mental illness in the forefront, and she does it in a way that anyone can understand; “the city looks pretty when you been indoors for 23 days… Friends treat you like a stranger and strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well”; with lyrics filled with such insight and vulnerability it’s no wonder why Barnett is receiving such a lot of deserved attention.
Barnett’s writing style is poetic; keeping her verses and choruses concise and flowing, coming back to topics previously mentioned and letting the listener relate within the confines of both the world and their own life. A perfect example of coming back to previous material is a connection between Sometimes I Sit… track, ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party,’ and Tell Me‘s closing track, ‘Sunday Roast’. On “Nobody cares…” she explains “Yes I like hearing your stories, but I’ve heard them all before / I’d rather stay in bed, with the rain over my head, than have to pick my brain up off of the floor.” Two years later, coming back to that one lyric she shows growth and compassion with “Keep on keeping on / You know you’re not alone / I know all your stories / But I’ll listen to them again.” In keeping with the self-awareness and looking out for each other motifs on the record, she again turns the lens on herself but in a way that shows that there is hope for growth in you, even if it takes a year or two.
Although the album can feel like protest record; calling attention to the mental health, and how women are perceived in 2018, there is never a sense of Barnett feeling preachy. You can’t shy away from her ability to bring heavy topics down to everyone’s eye level and make them relevant in your life. The album ranges from foot tapping easy listening, to relentless re-listens in order to make sure you’ve caught every meaning behind every lyric. Barnett strikes gold again with Tell Me How You Really Feel and, with her ability to connect the dots in life in such a relateable and concise way.
Tell Me How You Really Feel is out now.