Having succumbed to her highly talkative songs from probably the album of 2015, time now to sit and think about the Melbourne-based singer’s curious new 45 on the Third Man label
While I don’t usually review singles on here, it would be rude to pass over the new seven-inch from Courtney Barnett, which has lately arrived on my doorstep, direct from Jack White’s Third Man headquarters in Nashville. For one thing, it’s a lot more interesting than my usual mail! Secondly, it is a splendid-looking item, on classic black vinyl with luminous Third Man logo, which states clearly that both sides are ‘Produced by Jack White III’ himself – in person. And thankfully, the two tracks are pretty good, in a morose sort of way, as I would hate them to be duds.
Courtney cut this single over a long weekend in June while in Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Festival (known as ‘Roo’ to local hipsters), when she “stopped past Third Man Records and recorded two songs”. The casual nature of the rendezvous and the live-recording technique that White oversees has resulted in both tracks having a rootsy and laid-back feel, with rather less of the revved-up rambling and edginess that we have come to associate with the singer. The A side, ‘Boxing Day Blues (Revisited)’, is obviously intended as an epilogue to the world-weary final track on her album. It is a little more jaunty in feel, though, with some tasty, twangy and reverb-heavy guitar, while the feel-bad lyrics are still very much in place, riffing on the idea of how the loneliness you feel when you have been rejected by a loved one matches the feelings you have on Boxing Day when you have a hangover and loads of mess to clear up (though this would have to be clarified for listeners in non-Commonwealth countries!). Her voice is admirably husky and sounds, suitably enough, quite Country-ish in its air of melancholy and quiet desperation, particularly as she sings, “What do you feel for me anyway?”
I’m a fan of the B Side, too, if only for the fact that it has led me to discover that Australian post-punk band The Birthday Party originally operated, back in 1979, as The Boys Next Door (I had absolutely no idea!). Here she covers their cult classic NOT written by Nick Cave called ‘Shivers’, which she describes as “one of the best songs in the world”. She adds her own brand of darkness, gloom and thudding drums to the song, which is brave when the original was an ironically written and melodramatically performed ballad on the subject of teenage angst and casual threats of suicide. It works, though. It works well. And I think it is a wise move on Courtney’s part to refrain from singing the word ‘shiver’ in that daft kind of stuttering style that Nick Cave had previously adopted.
Much respect, then, to Courtney and Jack, because the record is a worthy addition to the Blue Series of singles for Third Man, where it keeps company with seven-inches by such luminaries as Laura Marling, Beck, Seasick Steve, First Aid Kit, Tom Jones and, it seems, some outfit called Insane Clown Posse, who, I freely admit, I have yet to check out. And it’ll certainly do until the deluxe version of Sometimes I Sit.. comes out in a few weeks, featuring live versions of stuff already on the album (and maybe some demos or remixes – as is usual with these things). We should look out, particularly, for the ‘special’ deluxe edition which will be on glorious yellow vinyl. In fact, having gone on to receive a speeding penalty through the post from Warwickshire Police (the sods!) along with some more bills, I might make a point of getting this mailed through my letterbox, also.
Check out the new tracks here, if you haven’t already: