The shambling jangle (shangle?) of 2015’s ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit’ evoked the warmer end of the Britpop memories, lurching about with the gleeful freedom of a Graham Coxon solo effort. And, just as with that particular era, a scuzzier landscape of self-doubt and turmoil was ushered in when the good times stopped. Courtney Barnett’s combined knack for wonky melodies and dextrous vowel deployment remain, but the textures are a little more ragged and the tone rather dour on this second studio set.
Early teaser ‘Nameless, Faceless’ is a strutting grower with the memorable, Margaret Atwood-paraphrasing, lines about the contrasting worries of a nocturnal walk in the park: “Men are scared that women will laugh at them...Women are scared that men will kill them.” While ‘Sometimes I Sit…’ was not without its gear changes, the fidgeting energy across these ten tracks is especially compelling, with the sub-two minutes ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ – all distorted guitars, howled chorus and murderous drums - making for an explosive half-way marker.
A song called ‘Crippling Self Doubt And A General Lack Of Self Confidence’ is always going to be fairly sprightly, right? Imagine the literal alternative. As it is, with assistance from several Breeders, it proves to be one of the record’s sunniest tunes, despite the vivid imagery of the anxious lyrics: “indecision rots like a bag of last week’s meat and I guess it’s hard to keep everybody happy.” The perpetual disconnect of the touring artist serves as a potent stimulus for ‘City Looks Pretty’, observing how “Friends treat you like a stranger and strangers treat you like their best friend.“
‘Need A Little Time’ is a particular highlight, the verses battling up a rhythm section on a sharp incline to the achingly expressive chorus wherein we learn that the break is required “from me and you.” ‘Sunday Roast’ closes the album in a fuzzily contented shuffle, imploring the recipient to “keep on keeping on, you know you’re not alone,” and Barnett could well be offering a pep talk to the discombobulated artist in the mirror.
The stories are still there and the frazzled humanity at their heart is more affecting and indicative of longevity that its predecessor’s excitable twitching. The direct nature of the references to gender politics and the normalised macho bullshit of internet trolls are wonderfully withering and the meta references to following up a successful record avoid cliché. Not one for instant gratification, ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’ benefits from the nurturing and patience mentioned in its lyrics. After the cheap - but definitely magical – thrills of her debut, this is a slow-burning triumph.
Words: Gareth James
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