[Review] Courtney Barnett, « Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes, I Just Sit » : A Smart Noise
The ‘slacker’ Australian rock chick proves she’s really a hard worker with her first album, as she crafts the smartest of lyrics around the joy of noisy guitars.
Mick Jagger sang like an American blues boy from the dark end of the street, whilst actually being a well brought-up middle-class English lad from the leafy suburbs of London. Courtney Barnett sings like exactly what she is: a young guitar-wielding Australian rock chick from the suburbs of Melbourne who only recently gave up her treasured job tending bar in a local watering-hole. Now that might not sound as impressive as being a 1920s bluesman from the Missisipi Delta but hell, if you want authenticity, Courtney is all that.
One quality she shares in common with Jagger – in the days long before he became a “Sir” – is an ability to bring intelligence, wit and wry social observation to the rock song, which she combines with a Dylanesqe semi-talking style of delivery and a confessional edge which is all her own.
All of this first came to wider public notice with the 2013 song “Avant Gardener” off her second EP, which comes on like the perfect, laid-back summer song, but as you listen more closely you realise she is describing falling into a panic attack. But the whole thing is told with such a comic sense of the absurd that you can’t help but smile.
The same self-deprecating sense of humour is stamped all over the first single of the album right the way from its title “Pedestrian At Best” to its chorus of “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional I promise to exploit you”. Meanwhile the neatly self-summarising line “My internal monologue is saturated analogue” is a good description of the accompanying music, which kicks off with a strangled squeal of noise before launching into a pounding, hacking thrash with vocals and guitars tipping over into over-saturated distortion. Yet, comparisons to Nirvana seem wrong-headed when there is such an overriding sense of joy in making that noise and spitting out the dismissive lyrics. They’re definitely having fun and in that sense are sometimes even reminiscent of fellow Aussies, Jet.
It’s refreshing to have an 11-track album that clocks in at a snappy 43 minutes with inter-track gaps kept to a bare minimum, one song nipping at the heels of another. Although most tracks run about three minutes, a couple are twice that length – Small Poppies and Kim’s Caravan – building slowly and giving the band space to stretch out. Because despite her driving influence this is still a band album not just a group of backing musicians (indeed one is the co-producer). You feel sure they secretly long to be the Crazy Horse to her Neil Young.
And like Mr Young she can take it down a notch or two on country-tinged “Depreston” which quietly takes apart the suburban dream with the feel of a pickup truck full of belongings rolling down an endless street of identically dull homes. Another – literally – driving song is the memorably catchy “Dead Fox” with its chorus of “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you”, turning a road safety message into something more existential as she lays out all the fears of mortality playing through her head as she journeys down the road.
In fact it took a journey as far as America before people started to notice her, but it’s easy to see why the USA would have recognised her as one of their own. Maybe because she actually is what Avril Lavigne was presented as being. But whereas you feel sure Avril was mainly concerned that her hair was clean and she looked cool, Courtney is happy stirring up a sweaty mosh pit as she sings “Don’t stop listening I’m not finished yet. I’m not fishing for your compliments.”. Let’s hope she isn’t – on both counts.
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Marathon Artists. Lien I-Tunes.