Album Review: Courtney Barnett - 'Things Take Time, Take Time'

Thanks in part to her soothing, slacker rock sarcasm and part to her expert song crafting, over the last five years Courtney Barnett has become one of the biggest names in indie music. Having conquered the hearts of both fans and critics in 2018 with 'Tell Me How You Really Feel', anticipation is sky high for Barnett's long awaited 2021 offering. The Mic's Nieve O'Donnell breaks down Courtney Barnett's latest project, 'Things Take Time, Take Time'.

Waking, moving, watching, the mention of a daily activity and a moment of reflection: "In the morning I’m slow / I drag a chair over to the window / And I watch what’s going on / A garbage truck tiptoes along the road / Light a candle for the suffering." In a run of very few lyrics, Courtney Barnett masterfully executes reflection within the backdrop of every-day human activity. 'Things Take Time, Take Time' is softer to the touch and more suited for everyday listening in comparison to Courtney’s previous stellar albums. Whilst slower and more melodic, the substance of this album isn’t compromised. The opening track Rae Street, based on the street of the same name in Edinburgh, is where Courtney spent the majority of lockdown in 2020. It sets her new record ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’ as an emotive and soft record which is also mentally and physically considered despite various difficulties and challenges, of which Barnett is viscerally truthful about in her lyrics.

Courtney’s abilities to tap into the subtle complexities of our everyday relationships and feelings are still showcased to a great extent. Barnett’s songwriting has tended to intertwine complex relationships with the, sometimes, depravity of everyday life whilst possessing elements of fantastical escapism. Elevator Operator from Barnett’s previous riff-heavy album ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’ was inspired by a story from one of such friendships; she said that “One day he got into the elevator with this lady, and she freaked out because she thought he was going up to the roof to kill himself. He told me the story, and it seemed to be such a crazy kind of story to me, just a crazy situation.” Toying with the depravity of suicide, Barnett contrasts the cynical subject with phrases like ‘I come up here for perception and clarity/ I like to imagine I'm playing SimCity’, twisting the melancholic notion into a reflective and fantastical one.

Photo by Mia Mala McDonald

Similarly, Barnett taps into these relationships and complexities despite deducting the depravity. Reflective, but not obviously an anti-capitalist record, the theme is recurrent in Courtney’s songwriting where she manages to discuss the monetary state of the world whilst focusing on the part relationships have to play. The chorus of title track Rae Street states ironically that ‘Well time is money and money is no man’s friend / And all eyes on the pavement / I’m not gonna touch ya don’t worry so much about it.’

On Sunfair Sundown, the song begins almost in media res, writing that ‘Oh what a day, and congrats on the keys to your place /You’ve escaped the rat race as they say / Now you’re settling in for the stay anyway you got a blank slate to renovate.’ Whilst a positive thing, Courtney satirises the helpless idea of the ‘rat race’ and moves the focus to the element a relationship has to play. Lovingly stated, Courtney includes lyrics such as ‘And I smile when you say that you’ll build me a table one day well, I’d be so grateful’, ‘Let me grab my bag we can sneak out through the side door’ and ‘shine the torch on the path, darling please don’t let go of my arm’, revealing the purposeful nature of relationships in a world that can be obsessed with material and property.

"Things Take Time, Take Time seems to encapsulate more closely ideas of modern love and relationships"

Musically, the album is recognisably different, but certain songs still have distinct differences, making them clearly Barnett’s property. Opposed to the riffs and pedals of Avant Gardener, Sunfair Sundown and the rest of this album still utilises fuzzy guitar, especially in Turning Green. Here’s The Thing is melodic and honest, focusing on romantic love, and Before You Gotta Go is potentially the catchiest of this selection of Barnett’s songwriting. Take It Day By Day is followed by If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight which, as a love song, is unashamedly so. ‘If loving you’s a crime / then gimme those front headlines’ and ‘All my fears collided / when our mutual friend confided in me that / There’s a ninety-nine percent chance that it’s requited / I read my bible left to right / I fantasise I’m by your side’ are more examples of Courtney’s songwriting. It’s refreshing to hear so much honesty in her lyrics, rather than her typical, yet admittedly excellent display of lyrical sarcasm.

From video for 'Before You Gotta Go'

Write A List of Things To Look Forward To is inspired by a mindful method a friend uses to escape a depressive rut, painting a picture of beneficial connections between friends and loved ones. Splendour then slows the album down once again. Oh The Night, as the last track on the album, serves as the end of a long day as the sun is setting. ‘Oh the night, goes so slowly / anytime, I get low / And I don’t really need reminding / I know it’s only in my mind.’ Despite challenges in our lives and our relationships, we’re reminded that the next day will still come as the album resets to Rae Street’s introductory morning sequence of waking, resetting and starting again.

Although different, ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’ shouldn’t be underestimated, and like it’s title, should be allowed to run its course; Barnett doesn’t compromise on the lyrics that are excellently true to life and honest, emphasised by the open-hearted and generous framework that this album’s use of music provides. ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’ seems to encapsulate more closely ideas of modern love and relationships, whether platonic or romantic. Personally, the ending of Rae Street not only sets the tone for the album’s possible intentions but is also a lyric I’d take with me from the album, as a token of Courtney’s personal advice: ‘Let go of that expectation / change the station / find out what you want.’

‘Things Take Time, Take Time’ was released on Friday, 12th November via Marathon Records.

Quotes courtesy of NBHAP via

In article images courtesy of Courtney Barnett via Marathon Artists and Black Arts PR. Video courtesy of Courtney Barnett via YouTube.