Since stumbling fully formed from Melbourne five years ago, Courtney Barnett has proved to be a singular artist, mixing rambling Pavement-esque rock with her own cutting and poetic lyrics. After an EP compilation, her 2015 debut LP and last year’s collaborative record with Kurt Vile, she’s back with her second record proper, and things have changed a little.
Compared to the snappy pop smarts of her debut, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Tell Me How You Really Feel is a slow-burner, deeper and more serious. Hopefulessness is a stoned, gloomy opener, its guitars uncoiling slowly like a wounded rattler, but it blossoms into a powerful, feedback-strewn finale. Meanwhile, first side highlight Charity evokes Stephen Malkmus’ most accessible pop, while City Looks Pretty begins like Bowie’s Heroes and ends as a waltzing lullaby that recalls her debut’s Small Poppies.
There’s a current of sadness, even anger, running through the heart of the record, however, from the minor-chord melancholy of the affecting Need A Little Time to Nameless, Faceless, which deals with disaffected men who become online trolls or abusers, Barnett channelling Margaret Atwood: “Men are scared that women will laugh at them… women are scared that men will kill them.” Walkin’ On Eggshells, meanwhile, is woozy country-rock of the kind Vile might try, while closer Sunday Roast is a spectral, dusty delight, and her finest ballad so far.
Seeing as Barnett is such a wild, electrifying lead guitarist, there are sadly no Kim’s Caravan-style jams here – Tell Me… is too subtle a beast for those kind of fireworks. Instead, Barnett lets her words do much of the heavy lifting as she details her everyday life, the whirlwind of fame and the triumphs and troubles of politics. This is the work of an artist settling in for the long run.