In a world full of singer-songwriters of many different types, just what is it that makes Melbourne artist Courtney Barnett still sounds so fresh and appealing on her third album?
Six years back, with her debut album proper Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, when you heard the lead single, the should have been a bona fide chart hit ‘Pedestrian At Best‘ right from the off it was like being grabbed by a brilliantly bratty record that implored you to dance with it or it would stomp on you. In the wrong hands (see: major labels) there would have been pressure to deliver album upon album of songs like this.
Fortunately being genuinely independent her next solo album was the more grungy Tell Me How You Really Feel, and now we have her third album.
It’s unmistakably her – and what is pleasing to hear is that, as with her two previous albums, it’s a distinctly different feel to the one that went before. Having worked on the record with drummer Stella Mozgowa what we have is an album that is more reflective than she has delivered previously. There’s a continuing mood of alternative rock – but what I hear creeping in on this much more intimate album are hints of Americana, and it’s something she does well. It’s comparatively short in terms of length, clocking in at just over thirty three minutes, but it does not let you feel short changed.
Taking stock of her life around her, there’s a sense of this is where we find her, as though you’ve just dropped round for a cup of tea and a chinwag and found her ruminating on things. ‘Well, time is money – and money and money is no man’s friend,’ she sings on album opener and first single ‘Rae Street.’ Relationships have ended – and ‘Before You Gotta Go‘ is one of the best end of relationships songs I have ever heard lyrically. She acknowledges that the relationship has broken up after a fight but let’s the other person know that she would want her last words to them to be unkind, and that she’ll always think of them. This delivered in an upfront way that it feels honest and plain speaking but without resorting to cliche. No mean feat and something every songwriter should aspire to do.
If her debut was headbanging in your car like Wayne and Garth, and her second was a wonderfully scuzzy gig complete with sticky floors, then this is a record you can imagine listening to (or making) around the campfire. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Barnett is that she can be upfront without being angsty. She observed the everyday and delivers it in a way that feels refreshing and feels so different to anyone else.
The reality is that there is not a duff tune on this album. Within just a few plays you will come to love this record. Released towards the end of the year it runs the risk of perhaps being overshadowed by some very big name releases but that does not dim its brilliance. It may be the most accessible record she has released but she has delivered it without compromising herself, and this is how, in so many ways, she sets herself apart from the crowd.