Given the amount of critical acclaim, and hype that has surrounded Courtney Barnett, it can be a little startling to realize her newest release “Tell Me How You Really Feel” is only her sophomore solo album. Her breakthrough 2015 debut album “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” dazzled fans and critics alike with her profound penchant for wordy, verbose lyricism, compared to none other than the king lyricist himself Bob Dylan. She followed it up in 2017 with a joint album alongside Kurt Vile, but her newest release see’s her back in the driver seat, alone.
“Tell Me How You Really Feel” is a slight step away from the sound she began with on her debut, but a very slight step. The songs sound more polished not only in production quality, but in the writing behind them. Barnett opens the album on the melancholy, riff-driven “Hopefulessness.” A quick judgement might lead the listener to believe Courtney is setting the stage for a more somber sophomore effort, but that is certainly not the case. The song gradually builds ever so subtly, as it culminates into a noisy crescendo, that leaves you lingering on abstract feedback noises that seamlessly transition into album highlight “City Looks Pretty.” This song really boasts the connection between the Barnett we’ve known, and the one we’re getting to know. It’s a peppy upbeat number, with fun guitar leads, and lyrics that bounce around between optimistic, and cynical, much like the overall tone of the album.
The album pushes forward this way, moving between shifting dancy drumbeats, unique guitar licks, and contrasting lyrics behind insanely catchy vocal melodies. Unsurprisingly, two of the strongest songs on the album are the two we got previews of leading up to the album. “Need a Little Time” boasts some of Barnett’s best guitar work to date, and “Namless, Faceless” has one of the most charging rhythms on the album, with lyrics touching on the difference between regular fears of men and women, framed through the perspective of Courtney, and a man she’s speaking to.
Overall, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” is a great follow-up to Barnett’s debut. While not exactly changing sounds drastically like many artists do these days, she manages to keep things interesting while stretching out a little bit. The album is probably unlikely to win over any naysayers of her previous efforts, but dedicated fans should be more than pleased, and the album is overall incredibly accessible in a way that could very well open her up to new listeners.