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(Credit: Courtney Barnett)

Music

Courtney Barnett picks her favourite album of all time

We all have that one album that first grabs us by the lapels and shakes us like a Skoda speeding over a cattlegrid. It’s that moment when you’re 13 or 14 and the saloon door swings open and in strolls the future. Thereafter, our individualism flourishes and an identity is borne beyond how far you can fling your snots with a ruler. Then there is a second moment a little further down the line of adolescence whereby you realise there is even more depth to this new cultural saloon than you first realised. It is this second revelatory album that Courtney Barnett holds dearest. 

Championing her favourite album of all time, the Australian songwriting extraordinaire, went with PJ Harvey’s masterful Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, presenting an album cover which I can’t see without hearing ‘You Said Something’. Speaking about the moment it arrived in her life, Barnett said, “I didn’t hear it until I was maybe 18 or so. I had a friend who showed me this whole bunch of music like Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith and the Pixies and stuff I hadn’t really ever heard before.” Now, there’s a CBGB-loving friend that we all need in our lives. 

“And I remember she gave me a burnt CD of [Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea]It was a bit of a turning point in my life, I guess,” she added. Since then, Barnett has bought it a few times because she felt bad about having a pirated copy, but, in a way, God bless LimeWire, because as Barnett continues, “At that time it had a huge impact on me, and as a guitarist and songwriter. Even the lyrics on this album are amazing as well. It just captures everything.”

As she proudly proclaims, “That is why it is my favourite album.” Barnett then offers up a tale that can be corroborated by many of us in a personal sense. That beloved record from your second coming of age might fade from the psyche from time to time, but like an old friend’s number, it will always be there for a catch-up and offer up a dose of strange and profound feelings when you do. 

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As she adds: “I hadn’t listened to it for a while, and I Just had that moment of hearing your influences or little bits of the way she sings or the way she plays guitar or some of the tiny throwaway lyric lines, that were quite close to something that I had done or thought of. Then you have that realisation that you look up to this person a lot and you’ve probably stolen bits here and there.” In other words, these records ingrain themselves in the best possible way. 

Barnett, however, has taken that influence and spun it out with her own sense of defiant individualism. This much was clear from her latest album Things Take Time, Take Time, whereby she crystalised the motion that she was the best songwriter to emerge from the 2010s and now she has entered the 2020s with an effort that sails above the malaise of attempted originality with a dollop of scratch-backed prose as naturalistic as a painting hung in the corridors of a Working Men’s Club. But somewhere behind all that originality is her 18-year-old self, falling into the trap of PJ Harvey’s wondrous world. 

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