Addiction, loneliness, withdrawal – it’s a downward spiral and a recurring theme when dalliance turns to dependence. In some cases it’s drugs, in others it’s alcohol, sometimes it’s even chocolate (specifically Toblerone). For Courtney Barnett, it’s Ramen noodles.
Like the first surge of cocaine, the hit of oriental goodness is instant and joyous, but can be followed by a glib, grubby comedown. Throughout the song, Barnett tries hard to dispel the negative connotations of her craving, insisting “it can’t be true that they use glue to keep the noodles stuck together” and that, like all addicts fully focused on their next florid binge, she “disagrees with all their warnings.” Never since Elvis Costello’s Momofuku has there been such a passionate, pleading love letter to the quickfire, quick-fix curse of instant noodles.
As the song progresses, Barnett’s dependence has deepened – “I withdraw from all my friends and their dinner plans” – in order to maintain her hearty habit. As ever, Barnett showcases her lyrical luminosity, wrapping a serious subject around an object that’s as throwaway as the bag it boils in. It’s both wry and wilting, as Barnett’s shrugging drawl sounds both desperate and deluded.
Since Barnett first came to international prominence with her Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit record, there were always signs she was going to develop and outgrow those initial grungy undercurrents. Furthermore, her welcomed love of alterna-rock heroes (or should that be hero?) The Lemonheads – she’s covered their more statelier songs ‘Paid to Smile’ and ‘Being Around’, the latter accompanied by Evan Dando – hinted at covering more introspective, acoustic turf.
With ‘Three Packs a Day’, that prophecy has been fulfilled, although the contemplative, folk-infused strum that runs through the verses sounds more akin to fellow Aussie rockers Smudge’s slacker hymn ‘Divan’. As soon as the chorus kicks in, though, Barnett’s familiar furrow is ploughed, as a twisting, jolting guitar riff bleeds into view, before a harmonica adds a Laura Imbruglia-style country kick to proceedings.
It bodes well for her sophomore album, even if it means a spell in Ramen rehab.