Something Is Missing, Is Missing from Courtney Barnett's 'Things Take Time, Take Time'

BY Alex HudsonPublished Nov 9, 2021

Courtney Barnett's best songs twist fleeting moments into profound observations — like the way she turned a real estate hunt into a heart-wrenching meditation on mortality, or when she paused for an exchange of mutual admiration with a "clever" paramedic during a near-death experience.

Those moments, which seemingly used to come so easily for Barnett, are conspicuously missing from Things Take Time, Take Time. Instead, the social critiques of "Rae Street" are pedestrian at best, as Barnett parrots a popular activist talking point when she sings, "All our candles, hopes and prayers / Though well-meaning, they don't mean a thing / Unless we see some change." It's a fair point, but hardly outside-the-box thinking if you've spent five minutes on left-wing Twitter. And on "Write a List of Things to Look Forward To," she sings, "A baby is born as a man lay dying / And so on it goes," a bland juxtaposition of life and death seemingly borrowed from Live's "Lightening Crashes."

Barnett still has a beautiful singing voice, with a nonchalant delivery that sounds like she's talking with melody. And just as much as ever, her songs hit a sweet spot between classic rock and '90s grunge. Barnett has a newfound interest for drum machines and songs that emphasize groove and atmospheric vibe over storytelling. "Sunfair Sundown" is a gorgeous tapestry of jangling arpeggios and steady thwacking electronic beats, and the songwriter drops a quintessential Barnett-ism when she sings, "Shall we leave? Are you sure? / Let me grab my bag, we can sneak out through the side door."

For a virtuoso wordsmith like Barnett, it's a bit of a backhanded compliment to say the best thing about Things Take Time is the guitar playing, since that's probably not why most listeners are tuning in. But it's certainly true of the deliriously wonky solo that ends the minimalistic bass vamp "Turning Green," or the Real Estate-esque patchwork of chiming riffs on "Write a List of Things to Look Forward To." The guitar chops she showcased on the outstanding tour behind 2018's Tell Me How You Really Feel are on fine display here.

Things Take Time, Take Time is an exceedingly nice-sounding record — but with almost no quotable zingers, it's hard not to shake the sense that something is missing, is missing.

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