“You know what they say: no one’s born to hate” are the first words sung on Tell Me How You Really Feel, the new Courtney Barnett album. It’s the righteous rocker’s follow-up to her highly lauded major label debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
And if anyone was worried this fierce Australian lesbian’s sophomore release would fall into the dreaded “sophomore slump,” you can relax. Barnett, who has the outward persona of an alternative slacker, doesn’t fuck around with getting straight to it. What she’s trying to get at, it seems, is the balance between hope and hopelessness, or as she titles the first track of the record, “Hopefulessness.”
“I feel like I was writing songs for friends or people who I knew were kinda going through things,” she has said of this new Courtney Barnett album. “I kept seeing people struggling and feeling really hopeless, and it was this weird balance of like, what good is it to be hopeless? How can you do anything to make a situation better? How can I take that energy and turn it somehow positive?”
She does it — as she has throughout her still young career — by balancing the questioning laceration of her funny, observational lyrics with a far-reaching rock ‘n’ roll that can trample down non-believers or offer a soothing balm in angry times.
She gets seriously feminist on the Margaret Atwood–quoting “Nameless, Faceless,” and the song gives one visions of red-robed handmaids with guitars.
The self-loving and other-loving “Need a Little Time” harkens back to the female alt-rock heyday of Liz Phair and Belly.
And she shreds all over “City Looks Pretty” to such an extent I had visions of a co-headlining tour with St. Vincent — the self-reflexive Barnett juxtaposed against the post-modern cool of Annie Clark.