Things Take Time, Take Time
Album by Courtney Barnett
Released 12 November 2021
Singer-Songwriter / Indie Rock
Produced by Barnett & Stella Mozgawa
Rating – 6/10
Some small talk, some personability.
Courtney Barnett is the laureate of dry. If she were drawn by Roger Hargreaves, her name would be Little Miss Deadpan, avowing such quintessence with an essayist’s initiative on debut album, 2016’s ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’, letting her stream of consciousness flow with an Aussie drawl over wilding rock pastiche.
Barnett seems to tread lighter and lighter around this pastiche, as if surrounding eggshells are growing in size and threat, as her career moves along. 2017 Kurt Vile collab, ‘Lotta Sea Lice’, may have been her boldest shift, expanding and adapting to Vile’s Americana, while sophomore record ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’ slowed in reflection.
One may argue that several corners of her music are becoming as deadpan as the performer herself. ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’ is deadpan musically; while Barnett’s vocals are wayward in their Vile-isms, her sonic tone – in collaboration with Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa – is bare, autopilot-like, much like her lyrics, which are at least caring.
The album’s relationship with its audience reads like light-hearted therapy, with the impersonality of a greeting card, but well-meaning of a best friend. Centrepiece ‘Turning Green’ is the sum of all around it; its life advice may be a tad more intimate than the album’s quota – “I hear all your fears, and they are understandable, my friend / why don’t you let go of those ideas? They’re never gonna serve you in the end” – but the slow-burning musical link, computer-y and puffy; stiff like a stranger’s handshake, is anything but tangible.
But that link is at the forefront of ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’, which leaves me scratching my head; I’d have thought the self-help would be a little more detailed or humanish. There’s even a song called ‘Write a List of Things to Look Forward To’, which is one of the album’s most freewheeling good-times, but it’s followed by a waltz unable to dance in the form of ‘Splendour’, drained of any energy despite confirmation of being up to any task.
That feeling of one small creative covenant overcoming lethargy harvests the listening experience. The squelch of ‘Here’s the Thing’s’ effect pedal can’t save it from the humdrum of its daydream, sending anybody to sleep out of resentment rather than a gentle rock, but ‘Take It Day By Day’ swoops in, optimistic and helpful in both tone and writing, likeably adapting a steady rock riff akin to the stark simplicity of its message – “take it day by day, you gotta put one foot in front of the other”.
That’s the point where I realise the songs with such diminutive life lessons are actually the most precious of ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’, now matter how ‘song lyric tattoo’ they may appear. I like closing track ‘Oh the Night’, thematically one more shot of goodwill/meditation, musically layered similarly to a song from ‘Plastic Ono Band’.
But my favourite is a little different, and that’s ‘If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight’, which initially runs like a cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Christmas in the Loony Bin’, before popping with a half-disco aesthetic. It’s a heart-melting guitar ballad; Barnett submerges her voice into the depth of her reverbing chords.
It’s also one of the songs in which connections – from Barnett to those who need to hear, whether bystanders or specific muses – are particularly efforted; not to say she isn’t generally an accomplished writer. But those that strike a chord are overt; ‘Before You Gotta Go’ lunges and knocks away with “before you gotta go go go go, I wanted you to know know know know you’re always on mind”, a rhythmic vocal, like the fidgety tapping of anxiety, when all that needs to be made is peace.
And even when engineered or choreographed, Barnett’s vocal patterns are free. Kurt Vile rubs off on her on opening track ‘Rae Street’, which takes cues from Tom Petty in an ‘I Won’t Back Down’ redux, all the while photographing human downfall created by the pandemic. ‘Sunfair Sundown’ rides in a similar lane; a slacker’s touch, pleasantly fitting its everyday lyrics, like a modernised Lou Reed – “when you sleep / are you warm? Can you feel my cold feet?”.
If only the musical layout of ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’ were regularly reminiscent of Courtney Barnett’s roaming performance style. The album is otherwise comprised of a middling approach to composition and sound décor, admittedly an “exercise in patience” in Barnett’s own words.
Best tracks – ‘Take It Day By Day’ – ‘If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight’ – ‘Oh the Night’.
Weakest tracks – ‘Here the Thing’ – ‘Turning Green’ – ‘Splendour’.
Rating – 6 out of 10