When Courtney Barnett’s last album hit the airwaves, it was a revolutionary listen that showed she not only had a lot to say but could bite as tough as her bark. This unfortunately put expectations very high for a follow-up, and though she’s more than keeping things tight on her latest releases, it’s hard to compete with her debut record. This said Barnett is still one of the best artists around at not only carving out earnest tracks that speak to our humanity but one who can make you smile and dance while doing so. Though it’s certainly as lyrically fun as its predecessor, it’s just not as immediately biting as her previous album and will take time to grow on listeners.
There’s a brutality to Barnett’s energy as well as a vulnerability as the album opens wholeheartedly on “Hopefulessness,” and lets loose with as much tension as raw emotion. Barnett’s signature sharp lyricism keeps the song popping during the more sparse instrumentation, and lets her really take her time in the writing to let out howls in the last possible moment. Barnett’s biting commentary comes through more excitedly on “City Looks Pretty” as she brings a sense of warmth to her more aggressive writing. Though there’s a lot of punch to the guitars on this track, it’s truly Barnett’s clever rhymes that make the song not only come alive but feel fun.
“Charity” plays out a little more simply with Barnett’s quirky stops and hooks colouring up a familiar rock structure. As usual, her slice of life lyricism really sets the song apart and makes it feel like music that tackles honest issues that few feel comfortable even bringing up. There’s a haunting melancholy to “Need A Little Time” that Barnett crafts in both her words and subtle guitar sounds to make a track that oozes pain. Each chorus bursts out with a sense of regret as Barnett really captures the essence of wanting to better oneself without hurting others. In all this she still manages to drop line after line that will make you smirk.
The sunny energy of “Nameless, Faceless” mixed with Barnett’s sublime rhythm section makes for a real bouncy and understated track. Its real power however is its ability to turn from something glistening tonally to fiery Nirvana choruses makes for a track that is explosive and dynamic. “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” skewers passive aggressive comments from childish complainers as Barnett hits her punk peak. Hearing Barnett get so grimy and angry, and even a little self-aware, is a satisfying and catchartic experience to say the least.
As you might expect from a song titled “Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack Of Confidence” Barnett is as hilarious and glaringly real as ever, all while hitting some of the album’s most catchy melodies. Though the track could push itself into even more strange places, the fun you can hear in the band as a whole is contagious. A real pop in the percussion sets “Help Your Self” off in a fun new direction, with Barnett really pulling more funk out of simple guitar rock. Even the simple solos find a fun release in how distorted and visceral they’re made in the groove-driven rock.
Barnett reflects on her own insecurities in “Walkin On Eggshells” as she seems to grow tired of trying to please everyone. Though it takes a familiar instrumental arrangement on the whole, the way she harnesses those sounds in every chorus are a fun twist. The rollicking drums of “Sunday Roast” make the fiery guitar sounds feel more immediate and personal. While it takes time to expand on this idea, when it finally releases all the tension, it closes the record out on an emotional high.
Words by Owen Maxwell