“Put me on a pedestal I’ll only disappoint you” yelled Courtney Barnett on ‘Pedestrian at Best’ from her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. Since then she was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards and International Female Solo Artist at the Brits and back home won the Australian Music Prize, APRA’s Songwriter Of the Year and four ARIAs. That’s quite some pedestal, but it was well deserved for an incredible record.
“He said I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you” she repeats an online heckle of that record on lead single ‘Nameless, Faceless’. Is it a sign that Barnett has lost her muse and let us down like she predicted? In short, no. That song goes on to brilliantly dissect the power imbalance between genders: “I wanna walk through the park in the darkness/Men are scared that women will laugh at them/Women are scared that men will kill them”. The next line ably demonstrates how she’s held onto her knack for the relateable, “I hold my keys between my fingers” being the classic self-defence tactic that many a woman has turned to when they’re feeling vulnerable.
Musically, Tell Me How You Really Feel isn’t as sprightly as its predecessor (‘Walkin’ on Eggshells’ even flirts with country) but then that reflects the main lyrical themes as well. If “The city looks pretty when you’ve been indoors/For 23 days I’ve ignored all your phone calls” isn’t enough of an insight into Barnett’s state of mind then she makes it even clearer soon after. “Sometimes I get sad/It’s not all that bad” feels like an admission of the sort of comfort blanket that being so depressed you can’t leave the house can provide – at least feeling numb is some respite from the racing thoughts of a thousand anxieties.
There’s even a song called ‘Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence’ which is ironically one of the more upbeat tracks on the record, providing contrast to the chorus’s refrain of “Tell me how you really feel/I don’t know anything”. Is it a coincidence that it’s released in Mental Health Awareness Week? Maybe. Is it reassuring to hear these anthems to misery coming from one of the best songwriters in the world? Absolutely.