If the debut album for talented Australian Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Just Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” felt like summer, her second album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel” represents winter.
Throughout her first full-length album, the hooks are obvious and there’s an immediate understanding between the audience and Barnett. In her 2018 release, she experiments with how she relates to her listeners not only through her lyrics but also with how her songs are structured.
The Australian singer-songwriter is known for writing about common Millenial frustrations, ranging from messy breakfasts on the run, to lackluster attempts in finding inner peace. On this album, though, she delves deeply into the complexities of anxiety, depression, sexism, the impact of the internet and societal pressures, such as finding comfort in other people.
Her sophomore album explores a more introverted side of her artistry, perception of the world as a woman and self-confidence in general. While remaining witty, her lyrics are more somber than what she has been known for.
Barnett solidifies her strength as a singer-songwriter in this album without using her model for success over the past five years, but rather by asserting her innovative and steadfast creativity with the risks she takes.
On her debut album, Barnett warned that putting her on a pedestal would ultimately leave audiences disappointed. Her most recent release subverted the expectations of her following because even though her strong voice is constantly distinct, her songwriting is anything but static.
The track “Crippling Self Doubt and A General Lack of Self Confidence” is full of clever lyrics and a jamming guitar reminiscent of her previous works, however, the song also summarizes her new album’s theme of introspection.
There are many clever one-liners sprinkled between tracks that hone in on the complexities of self-confidence and how others influence your perception of the world. One of my favorites is when Barnett condescendingly belts out “I wish that someone could hug you” when addressing an internet troll on the album’s fifth track, “Nameless, Faceless.”
Along with a few other songs, the fifth track serves as a callback to Barnett’s previous album’s catchy instrumentals, however, the lyrics make the artist’s growth evident — she is more focused on conveying particular emotions than a specific storyline.
Throughout the entire album, Barnett relates her own self-reflection to the rest of the world through examining various aspects of every-day life.
In “Nameless, Faceless,” Barnett addresses those themes with the line: “He said ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup / And spit out better words than you’ / But you didn’t / Man, you’re kidding yourself if you think / The world revolves around you.”
Not only is she maintaining her care-free attitude about others’ opinions of her, she also pointedly addresses the concept of toxic masculinity by countering aggression with love and highlighting out how vulnerability is just a part of the human experience.
On the opening track, “Hopefulessness,” Barnett coos “your vulnerability, stronger than it seems,” and asserts her feminine strength and confidence as a major theme of the album.
Throughout the 10 tracks, Barnett sings about lacking confidence, the consequences of being overconfident and how people deal with everything differently. She also exhibits confidence in her artistry by injecting more personal lyricism and developing more complex instrumentals into her tracks.
Self-confidence and discomfort aren’t just reappearing concepts in “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” Barnett has a point. She is urging her audience to examine the expectations they have of her as an artist. She does so by straying from her previous work and refusing to give listeners even a single tune as simple as tracks that her 2015 album was filled with, such as “Elevator Operator” and “Pedestrian at Best.”
“Charity” has been noted as one of the most notable tracks on the album due to its charming and engaging rock-like instrumentals, however, the lyrics are overshadowed by the albums more poignant tracks, which also address the mundane nature of sadness, fear and nervousness.
I had to listen to this album three times before I truly appreciated it. The mistake I made at first was not listening to the lyrics with full attention. When I began really listening to the lyrics with intention, I picked up on how Barnett is using an innovative style to showcase her story structure through song. After the third round of “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” I heard the beauty in the various tracks, particularly the final song “Sunday Roast.”
In that track, Barnett sings: “I know you’re doing your best / I think you’re doing just fine.” With an airy and romantic tone, she assures the listener and the love song’s subject that they are enough.
The track also challenges the idea that comfort comes from other people. In the lyrics, “Some kindness goes around / Some kind of backfires,” and, “It’s all the same to me,” Barnett illustrates how finding self-comfort is ultimately the most important part of confidence.
The theme of the album is accentuated through snappy, positive lyrics, which are intermixed with darker lines and low guitar. The nuance to her style showcases how her shift as an artist has purpose — this album is focused on the messages within lyrics.
Throughout the album, Barnett sticks with her punk-influenced guitar as the primary instrument, yet compared with her other work this album is less upbeat. The album is more tender than all of her previous work because the 10 tracks explore topics, such as loneliness and frustration, with more vulnerability than the story-centric songs she has built her career off of.
Barnett’s latest album’s focus on emotion through lyricism is ultimately a resounding success because she maintains engagement to her audience with instrumentals, poetic lyrics and her creative, witty nature as a singer-songwriter.