Three years after the release of her invigorating debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett returns with another dose of whimsical indie rock. As you’d expect, it’s pretty good, though it doesn’t venture much further than that.
The album is built on solid foundations: catchy guitar riffs, compelling rhythm sections, witty lyrics and shrewd wordplay. However, after setting the standard so high on her debut, this is the least to expect. The disappointment comes from a lack of surprise, and maybe a sense of what could have been. “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” is a satisfying punk-persuaded highlight, stamped right in the middle of the album, but it’s over in less than two minutes.
Tell Me How You Really Feel is a short and punchy affair, which does admittedly suit the sway towards punk. However, it would have benefited from further exploration into the raucous aesthetic, particularly when some of the slower cuts just don’t cut it. “Walkin on Eggshells” is one of the lyrical standout moments, but the song is let down by a drastically drab instrumental. The closing track has a similar issue.
Of course, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise solid album, where Barnett isn’t necessarily trying to reinvent rock music. Her guitar and vocal performances are rarely flashy, but they are always effective. There’s no doubt the formula works, but there is something missing to propel the music to the next level. I have faith that Barnett will get there, and Tell Me How You Really Feel will certainly tie us over in the meantime.
7 out of 10
This was a case where the best qualities of something threw into sharp focus where it was most lacking. Courtney Barnett is a fine centre-piece to the album. Her lyrics flow, as does her delivery of them. There are shades of PJ Harvey about her, Lou Reed even. That velvet drawl. When the faux-punk instrumentals step back and let her dictate, as they do in “Hopefulessness” and “Help Your Self”, the whole picture is rock solid.
For the most part, though, goings on behind Barnett’s voice don’t get far beyond agreeable. The wry lyricism isn’t matched by its backdrop. *Tell Me How You Really Feel *is too busy, too neatly arranged for its low-key ruminations to really knock about and take hold. Each listen through settles into the mood of a glum road trip. I like that fleeting, floating vibe as much as the next guy (Andrew really liked it), but not enough happens on the journey for me to look back on it all that fondly, should I look back on it at all.
6 out of 10
I’ve had a good time with Tell Me How You Really Feel. Where Courtney Barnett’s debut thoroughly enjoyed a raw energy, rough edges and all, this follow up feels more mature, with a touch more polish, all without losing any of the character I had previously enjoyed.
While there are no real belting highlights for the instrumentals, basslines sound warm and rich and moments like the half-time switch, midway through “City Looks Pretty”, manage to hit the spot excellently. “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” retains the punkier, noisy guitar backing too, and with contributions from the likes of Kim and Kelley Deal, it’s unsurprising that a certain ’90s rock feel emerges more than once.
The vocals are what's really front and center in this album, as with its predecessor. Barnett’s half-spoken vocals are a tad more focused, and lyrically on form for the majority, including the rhythmical, soup-based insult in the second verse of “Nameless, Faceless” which has become a personal favourite. It’s an album that makes me smile for the majority, and while it is on the short side, my only gripe would be the strange choice of closer.
There’s nothing mind-blowing here, and there’s no pretence that there should be. This is instead a solid, albeit unassuming, indie rock record that makes for an enjoyable listen. Whether or not it’ll stick around for long is another question though, and it’s that unassuming quality that will likely make this a good entry in Barnett’s discography rather than a great album in its own right. Nevertheless, I definitely see myself returning to this for future listens.
7 out of 10