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Album Reviews, Music

Album Review: Courtney Barnett – “Tell Me How You Really Feel”

By: Jessica Nakamoto –




Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

At only 30 years of age, Courtney Barnett has already reached the prized status of an international icon. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, this singer/songwriter’s signature bold mash-up style has been a fiery catalyst for her blossoming career. In just six short years, Barnett’s racked up an impressive musical pedigree with accolades including a 2013 nomination for APRA song of the year and a 2016 nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys.

Despite this, many still stop to question, what is it exactly that makes Barnett such a global phenom? The answer’s not a simple one. Maybe it’s the witty lyrics. Maybe it’s the deadpan delivery style. Maybe it’s her unique blend of folk-pop and grunge-rock. Whatever the case, Barnett’s proven continuously that she’s primed to make her mark on the music world and she has the guts and grit needed to set herself apart. With new music peeking just beyond the horizon, fans around the world were especially excited to see what the year 2018 will bring for this global superstar.

Complete with an almost mocking sincerity, Barnett answers this call with a surprisingly refreshing take on over-dramatic and somewhat dichotomous nature of the pop-culture scene. The music industry is often dominated by piercing songs of extreme sadness or pure joy. Humans however, live their lives teetering along an emotional spectrum. With her latest album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, (out May 18 via Mom+Pop), Barnett dismisses the notion that people only exist between two impenetrable spheres of happy and sad. Rather, she insists that we go through emotional stages. In other words, we don’t always feel like we’re basking in gold and glory or feel trapped in a void of darkness and sorrow. Instead, with Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett maps out the range of human emotions and illustrates feelings such as hope, wonder, and fiery rage.

Tracks such as “Need A Little Time” even go so far as to portray a sense of unapologetic apathy. The song takes on an almost amusingly conversational tone as Barnett narrates a story about overwhelming pressure through a nonchalant internal dialog. The actual lack of feeling is unique in itself and realistically portrays the desire to be left alone from the rest of the world.

However, to prove her point regarding the versatility of human emotion, Barnett also addresses another real reaction to confronting challenges. With the track, “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”, she forcefully screams out her frustrations in a wild punk-rock rant. The mania exhibited is a sharp and starling contrast from previous songs such as “Hopefulessness” in which she slowly sings the words, “No one’s born to hate”.  This Jekyll and Hyde shift in personas is startling and a bit too abrupt for the unsuspecting listener, casually working their way through the album.

The issue of unfiltered pen-to-paper flowing emotion also raises additional scrutiny when Barnett tackles touchy modern topics of debate. In the track, “Nameless, Faceless”, she boldly issues an aggressive chorus that includes lines such as, “men are afraid women will laugh at them”, “women are afraid that men will kill them”, and “I hold my keys between my fingers”. While the issues of sexism and feminism are important to address in modern society, this kind of defiant proclamation is primed to ultimately add fuel to the already out-of-control fire of heated argument. In other words, blatant force and flashy defiance can actually push a solution further out of reach.

Yet, despite the criticism, Barnett deserves props for her commitment to exhibiting the multifaceted range of human emotion. With sadness, we feel self-doubt and fiery anger. With love, we feel comfort and sometimes even the need for a little space. In other words, we are more than robotic beings chained to a dichotomy of happy and sad. With her 10-song collection, Barnett drags listeners along her own version of an emotional rollercoaster and forces them to realize that it’s a natural part of life to sometimes feel a little less than perfect. And, if you do happen to feel energetic, feisty, or even ready to conquer the world, no worries, that’s all up to you.

Recommended Tracks:Need A Little Time”, “Nameless, Faceless”, and “City Looks Pretty”

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