Tell Me How You Feel

Courtney Barnett

Mom & Pop, 2018

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Ah, the troublesome sophomore album, in which all the expectations created by the smashing debut are themselves smashed by an artist bent on continuing to grow. At least, if you get lucky. If you don’t, you get a rubber stamp of the first album, tweaked and channeled by A&R and Marketing into that same familiar safe zone.

One of the challenges that Courtney Barnett faced with this album is that her 2015 debut Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit had such a distinctive sound. It captured the emergence of a unique and powerful new voice, a bracing statement that was spiky, bouncy, playful and aggressive, at times both sneering and nonchalant.

The first thing you notice as Tell Me How You Feel opens up is that everything feels just a bit warmer and more immediate than on Sometimes, a notable accomplishment given that both the production team (Barnett, Burke Reid and Dan Luscombe) and backing band (Bones Sloane on bass, Dave Mudie on drums, and Luscombe on keys and guitar) are identical to the previous album. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The unexpectedly deliberate mid-tempo pace of opener “Hopefullessness” (heh) holds in all sorts of coiled tension despite Barnett’s typically languid delivery, and feels like a statement right up front: Yeah, this one’s going to be a bit different, see? Next up, “City Looks Pretty” is more of a throwback, an obvious single candidate with an effervescent appeal reminiscent of the best songs on Sometimes, and an alliterative chorus. “Charity” offers more of that familiar springiness, along with a sweet late-Beatles hook, while the thrumming, thoughtful “Need A Little Time” adds warm organ accents.

“Nameless, Faceless” feels like a lost Pretenders tune, chiming guitars and sweet melodic verses interpolating with heavier choruses, a bit of an experiment that works. “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” fully unleashes the aggro side of Barnett that lay hiding in the folds of the former, delivering feedback and atonal soloing in a punkish rush.

“Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack Of Confidence” and “Help Your Self” channel Sometimes, the former big and bashing yet nonchalant, while the latter matches laconic music to Barnett’s laconic vocal, but with an edge. There’s an attitude leeching through here that’s essential to Barnett’s appeal, a heady stew of defiance, vulnerability, melody and rawness.

While most of these tunes are nearly as edgy as Sometimes, numbers like “Walkin’ On Eggshells” feature a warmer tone on the guitars and more space for subtle keyboard accents, with piano actually becoming prominent on the choruses, as Barnett sounds more wistful than angry, suggesting she is someone you aren’t just entertained by, but someone you might actually like to know.

Closer “Sunday Roast” is an airy, spacious, at times bass-less tune, another slight stretching of her sound that works, and another one where it’s hard not to hear a little echo of the Pretenders’ more melodic mid-tempo numbers.

With the element of surprise now gone, Tell Me How You Feel relies more on—warning, baseball metaphor approaching—mixing its pitches, bending your expectations a bit and adding embellishments to Barnett’s sound while remaining true to her core identity. While its charms might be a bit more subtle that the brash, bristly Sometimes, they’re there, in spades.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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