The start of Courtney Barnett’s sophomore album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, sets the scene for the chaotic, emotional turmoil to come with the words, “Take your broken heart / turn it into art.” While this first track, “Hopefulessness,” seems to drone on upon first listen, with its slow rhythm and monotonous vocals, it later becomes evident that each layer of the album serves a unique, intentional purpose. While “Hopefulessness” certainly doesn’t shine as a standalone track, it succeeds in easing the listener into the ups-and-downs that come throughout the collection.
In many ways, Tell Me How You Really Feel shows a maturation of Barnett in all aspects. Although the album is contradictory, uncertain and self-conscious throughout, her unflinching dedication to expressing her fears and vulnerabilities continually sets her apart as a daring, introspective artist. Her anger and frustration get the best of her in “Nameless, Faceless,” with the track serving as a nod to Kurt Cobain and a simultaneous jab at double standards in gender roles with the lyrics, “I wanna walk through the park in the dark, men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark, women are scared that men will kill them.” Her anger reaches its peak in the explosive “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” with impassioned, infuriated screeching vocals. This frenzied, aggression-ridden track is uncharacteristic of Barnett’s typical style, but displays a unique versatility reminiscent of the White Stripes.
But it’s not all anger and aggression; Barnett continuously illustrates herself as both poignant and empathetic. In “Need a Little Time,” she’s apologetic, level-headed and self-reflective. Her exasperation with both herself and those around her is a refreshingly relatable contemplation. She continues peeling back her layers, up until the tender final track, “Sunday Roast.” Ending the chaos of Tell Me How You Really Feel with a softer, more loving piece leaves the listener with a welcome sense of calm after the myriad of emotions expressed.
Overall, the unexpected irrationality, self contradictions, and internal battles found in Tell Me How You Really Feel are what make the album so appealing. While Barnett shows her self-conscious side throughout, her creative arrangements, hard-hitting vocals, and fearlessness in self-expression portray a confident, unapologetic artist. The track “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence” puts it all out there, displaying an unwavering vulnerability largely uncommon in today’s world ridden with Instagram likes and filtered selfies. And it doesn’t stop there. Like most of the tracks on her newest album, “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence” switches its tune. Just as you think Barnett is full of self-loathing and despair, she lifts the mirror and quickly points out the faults of whoever hurt her (and by the looks of it, someone hurt her). Lesson to be learned from all of this? Don’t f**k with Courtney Barnett. Nobody’s perfect, even her, but if she’s a woman confident enough to put her insecurities on display for the entire world to see and come across this strong, then there’s no telling what else she’s capable of.