Review: Courtney Barnett Channels ’90s Sound With ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’

Courtney Barnett photo by Pooneh Ghana
Courtney Barnett photo by Pooneh Ghana


Courtney Barnett channels rock and roll of the 1990s with the album Tell Me How You Really Feel, a collection of emotionally charged songs.

During one called “Nameless/Faceless,” Courtney Barnett complains, “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup/And spit out better words than you.” So, you want Barnett to tell you how she really feels? No need to ask twice.

Barnett opens Tell Me How You Really Feel, her second solo album of true feelings, with a druggy, woozy, Nirvana-y and melancholy-y dirge titled “Hopelessness.” Built upon a slow and mournful groove and building up to a guitar feedback-filled finale, this opener begins with the unlikely couplet: “You know what they say/No one is born to hate.” Not only does Barnett sound hopeless, she also comes off a little unfocused.

Courtney Barnett Bandcamp

Barnett and ‘Irresistible’ Guitar Riffs

Much clearer and brighter though, is one called “Walkin’ On Eggshells.” Over an irresistible electric guitar riff that sounds like Neil Young & Crazy Horse, as filtered through Teenage Fanclub, and nicely colored with acoustic piano, Barnett speaks to our overly sensitive culture. “I don’t wanna hurt your feelings,” she confesses at one point, “so I say nothing.” Sometimes it’s best to just stay silent whenever one doesn’t want to offend.

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Sonically, Barnett’s latest album is oftentimes a throwback to what was best about ’90s alternative sounds; namely good, hard guitar rock. She seals the deal with help from Kim and Kelley Deal, both of The Breeders, and a sibling pair that helped define wonderful ’90s alternative rock. Each Deal sister appears on “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence,” which is a herky-jerky rock track that would have fit well on either a Breeders or Pixies album. During its chorus the Deal girls sing, “Tell me how you really feel.”

Barnett returns to angry Nirvana mode with “I’m not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” Barnett sounds like she’s had just about enough from somebody when she spits out, “But I can only put up with so much shit.” No need to tell us how you really feel, Courtney. We get it.

Tell Me How You Really Feel is an album filled with raw emotions and uncompromising rock and roll, and in many places, it will help you express how you truly feel – especially if you’re feeling particularly pissed off.