Courtney Barnett

On her new album “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” Courtney Barnett gets political. (How can any artist not get political in 2018?) 

Over the 10 tracks, the Australian singer-songwriter-guitarist finds inspiration in Margaret Atwood quotes (on “Nameless, Faceless,” she sings, “Men are scared that women will laugh at them/Women are scared that men will kill them”) and the madness of the modern world (listen to “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”). 

But she also gets philosophical, ethical and introspective on LP No. 2. Many fans and writers have focused on the opening line of the opening song, “Hopefulessness” — “You know what they say/No one’s born to hate/We learn it somewhere along the way.” But it’s important to follow her lyrical thread to the end of the verse — “Take your broken heart/Turn it into art/Can’t take it with you.” 

“That last lyric kind of comes from that Buddhist idea that you can’t take physical things with you when you die,” Barnett said ahead of her sold-out Sunday set at the House of Blues. “The way you treat people, the way you live your life is what’s important, and everything else is just a product you use in the moment.” 

With its droning guitar, meandering melody and slow-burn build, “Hopefulessness” would be an ideal closing cut for a record. As soon as Barnett finished with the tune, she thought she had found the song to end the LP. 

“I had it pegged as the closer until I sat down to do the track sequencing,” she said. “I ended up switching it to the start and I think it works really well. You have to lean in to hear it and the dynamic that creates.” 

Much of “Tell Me How You Really Feel” follows Barnett’s own advice to make art out of sorrow and anger. 

On the poppy, thumping “Nameless, Faceless,” she uses an online troll’s bitter comment of “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you” and replies with “But you didn’t/Man, you’re kidding yourself” and “I’m real sorry about whatever happened to you.”

“I feel like the song is about taking back power in a situation, kind of the way people will reclaim words or phrases that are supposed to be offensive,” she said. “But I think that was working on a subconscious level. I didn’t really think about it that much when I was writing, but on reflection, it makes sense that that’s what it’s about.” 

Barnett knows she has packed a lot of ideas and emotions into her simple, rumbling rock ’n’ roll. She says as she tours, especially right now in the United States, she can feel audiences reflecting her energy right back at her. 

“At the shows, there’s a sense of togetherness,” she said. “This is an important part of live music, getting to come together and feel those feelings in a safe space with like-minded people. It can be a kind of release on different levels for different people.”