The unimpressed demeanor of Australia’s darling indie rocker Courtney Barnett is firmly embedded in her character. The deadpan lyricist’s laid-back approach to songs like “Pedestrian at Best” garnered her widespread recognition and precipitated a cultural shift in indie music. This knowingly smart visage permeated every sector of Barnett’s celebrity.
No one expects Barnett, now eight years removed from her sparkling breakthrough set of EPs, to evolve her sound or change that much. If you’d subscribed to her anti-excited expression years ago, chances are that same formula will either work on you again, especially as we whittle down to our last strands of hope in the world.
If anything, we can expect Barnett to do what she does best: sound perpetually bored. She achieves critical mass on of this approach on Things Take Time, Take Time, the singer-songwriter’s third solo album and follow-up to 2018’s under-appreciated Tell Me How You Really Feel. There’s nothing on this third round that shocks or surprises, it’s all standard formula Barnett except for her witticisms being down-played slightly, and maybe her watered-down mope-rock influences are a little brighter on her sleeve.
Barnett’s a veteran in her craft by this point. Earlier this year, she was picked to cover The Velvet Underground’s classic “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and turned in a solid performance, bringing that nonchalant feel that would make Lou Reed nod in agreement. In fact, Reed’s spirit can be traced across Things Take Time robustly, the bridge of “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight” is straight-up New York-era Lou – “But now that I got your attention / I don’t wanna bore the brains outta your head.”
Opener “Rae Street” acts as a harbinger for the malaise that sets in across the record, with Barnett singing “In the morning, I’m slow / I drag a chair over to the window / And I watch what’s going on / The garbage truck tiptoes along the road,” with just the right level of non-excitement we’ve come to expect. Unfortunately, while Things Take Time doesn’t take much time on paper, its almost unchanging slow-burn aesthetic makes it feel much longer.
Deviations do exist, somewhat, with “Sunfair Sundown” utilizing a fancy keyboard beat to pronounce Barnett’s sarcastic tone, all the while veering her sound into a more playful direction. It’s short-lived, but it does show Barnett toying with new ideas slightly. However, she’s resting on her laurels more often than not on Things Take Time.
Barnett’s always seemed disinterested, but on Things Take Time it feels more glaring than usual, as if she’s legitimately bored with what she’s doing now. She simply seems to be going through the motions on “Write A List of Things To Look Forward To”, where she acts more pedestrian than ever by “walking around, walking around, with my head down, my head down,” maintaining the theme that this is as good as it gets with indie rock in 2021.
Previously, Barnett moved mountains with her gut-busting commentary, but as Things Take Time, Take Time takes its time to unravel ever so slowly, Barnett’s warranted displeasure reaches annoying levels. While the years since her arrival have given way to some of the most expressive female voices in music, Barnett’s one-trick-pony feels old and tired.