Courtney Barnett is an artist any music lover can agree is a powerhouse in lyrical skills and musical execution. With her newest album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett strikes out with melancholic, deadpan stories of varying subjects. What we knew of Barnett and what we expected of Barnett are not what was delivered in this album. Past albums twirl around with varying lyrics, both negative and positive. In Tell Me, Barnett focuses on woeful and gloomy lyrics. Variability in her lyrical abilities shines through with this newest album, while still killing the signature Barnett “deadpan” delivery we know and love.
In comparison to past ventures, Barnett focuses on possible past dark times. Right from the start with “Hopefulessness”, Barnett sets the tone of her hit album. Barnett toys with the origin of hate, what it can seem to be, when in the end sometimes we just have a bad day: “Your vulnerability / Stronger than it seems / You know it’s okay to have a bad day”. These wallowing and pitiful lyrics are a basis for what the rest of the album takes on. Not always focused on inner conflicts, Barnett also hits on subjects varying from social issues to relationship issues in general. Not all songs are so heavily focused on an inner struggle like “Hopefulessness”.
“Nameless, Faceless” hits on those social issues. The song mainly focuses on the ever-existent anonymity seen throughout all aspects of life: “You sit alone at home in the darkness / With all the pent-up rage that you harness / I’m real sorry / ‘Bout whatever happened to you”. Expanding on this, Barnett explains that anonymous attacks on the Internet, or from whatever platform, is a sign of other issues for the anonymous insult-slinger. Barnett taunts the lack of creativity and high levels of cowardliness with these attacks, especially in her hit lyric “He said ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup / And spit out better words than you’ / But you didn’t”. “Nameless, Faceless” is a nugget of gold in Tell Me How You Really Feel, but it only compliments what else is left. The album is full of roastings made into interesting songs. Putting all songs together and making that big picture, Courtney Barnett has built a story of a dark past. Starting with interpersonal struggles and bleeding into a dwindling relationship, Barnett wins at making an album into a story for its listeners.
Courtney Barnett is capable of many things with her songwriting abilities alone, but looking past these lyrics and how they mesh with the music, Barnett is the queen of personal style. Even with her different songs, subjects and musicianship, Barnett keeps her sound and style throughout it all. Compared to past albums, Barnett has changed her sound somewhat in Tell Me, but that only advertises her musicianship and her universal skills in the studio. No one subject is off limits, as listeners have come to understand with Barnett. It is obvious that Barnett knows the mood she wants in her album and can craft her own abilities around that goal. Deadpan and gloomy in a way, Barnett earns her keep as one of the best names to be referred to as “alternative”.
Courtney Barnett takes us along for a calm yet bumpy road in her newest album Tell Me How You Really Feel. Interestingly, Barnett changes her sound for the new album, but she never gets close to disappointing new and old fans. She remains the Courtney Barnett we know, maybe even becoming more and more herself, as she reveals more about herself in this definition “alternative” album. If a listener is not visiting this album for musical ability, that listener can hone in on lyrical ability, or storytelling ability, or everything at once. Courtney Barnett sets out for a new approach from what she’s done before and she only builds up her title of “Miss Congeniality” of alternative music as a result.
Songs to listen to: “Nameless, Faceless”, “Need a Little Time”, “Sunday Roast”
Related artists: Lucy Dacus, Kurt Vile, Julien Baker, Chastity Belt