Tell Me How You Really Feel
The pressure of second album syndrome is widely known. An artist who has reached amazing success with their first album struggles under the weight of expectation. Following on from a seemingly rapid rise to dizzying heights Courtney Barnett was not immune while writing her second album Tell Me How You Really Feel. In fact, she credits her collaborator Kurt Vile as the person who helped her pushed her material over the line. Talking about their joint album Lotta Sea Lice which was released between her debut and her new LP, Barnett says, “I think that project came at the right time because I just had no confidence. I’m sure that people appear in your life at a certain time for a reason.”
What you’ll notice in Barnett’s new album is that her wry, observational lyrics have been replaced by much more personal and introspective ones. She has turned her gaze inward. Known as a storyteller, the appeal of her songs has largely been the narratives she creates, so it’s quite interesting to hear something more conceptual. While this might disappoint some fans, it also feels like a good progression for Barnett as an artist. This album gives us insight into life on tour and the huge ups and downs that must entail, like missing home and the disconnect you feel when you return. In City Looks Pretty she notes that “Friends treat you like a stranger and/ Strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well”.
A lot of the songs are addressed to herself in the third person, while others are ambiguous, which piques one’s curiosity. These are songs that could be in the context of a romantic relationship, a friendship, or other people in the music industry. In reference to the heaviest track on the album I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch, which scrapes in under two minutes long, Barnett said, “male journalists have assumed it’s about them – which is a fair Freudian assumption – but it’s not really so specific. But also… if you think a song is about you, then it probably is.”
Speaking of heavy, another notable change in this release is the majority of the songs are plugged in, like the single Nameless, Faceless. One of the highlights on the album, it examines online trolls and their intimidation tactics, as well as the safety of women in a broader sense. The chorus is memorable not only for the lyrics borrowed from a Margaret Atwood quote (author of The Handmaid’s Tale) “Men are scared that women will laugh at them… Women are scared that men will kill them”, but also the lines “I wanna walk through the park in the dark… I hold my keys between my fingers,” a sentiment that rings all too true for many of us.
Other highlights include the beautiful Need A Little Time which showcases Barnett’s singing voice in a way we haven’t heard much of before, and Hopefulessness, a slow burner not dissimilar to her previous work and perfect introduction to the album. It also has one of the most affecting sentiments of the whole album, “Yknow what they say/ No one’s born to hate/ We learn it somewhere along the way”. A neat message to take away from another wonderful Courtney Barnett album.