Saturday, September 21, 2013
Neko Case's The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You on CD
It seems like it's been forever since we had a new Neko Case album. It's been a long four years since Middle Cyclone, and even longer since what I feel is her masterpiece, 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, arrived on the scene. It's a good thing I'm totally addicted to the song "Star Witness" from Fox--otherwise it would feel like Neko had fallen off the map. Hearing that incredible voice on the new album is like getting a phone call from an old friend. Welcome back, Neko.
On this new album, it's obvious that Neko has changed. She's adopted a more direct approach on these songs, relying less on that awesome voice and concentrating on what makes her so alluring--her singular talent as a songwriter. She's drifted away from her label as an alt-country chanteuse and is doing what artists such as Wilco and Fiona Apple are doing...existing in a genre of one. She's taking more risks, such as truly exploring her angrier side--songs such as "Man" are peppered with an almost astonishing stream of profanity--and she reveals a confident yet troubled view of the world that's defined by that introductory phrase "the worse things get."
Let's talk about that title for a minute. I love it. There's a trend in modern music to use descriptive and lengthy titles, something that might have been inspired by Neko's colleague, Ms. Apple. (I think that if I was a musician, I'd call my next album I'm the Meanest Man in the World and You're the Only One Who Loves Me, a nod to one of my favorite quotes from Million Dollar Baby.) Neko's always been cryptic and interesting in her album titles, and that filters wonderfully into her lyrics. She's one of the few singer-songwriters whose lyrics stand alone as true poetry, and I wish she had published the words in the somewhat lengthy booklet that accompanies this album. Then again, her voice is so clear and distinct that you'll have no problem understanding what she has to say.
If I had one complaint about The Worse Things Get, it would be the overall recording quality. I have one friend who has resisted her charms because "I hate what they're doing to her voice in the studio." This is a dense, busy recording, and as a result it sounds woefully compressed. Neko, your voice is amazing. Let it stand, naked, and watch the goosebumps multiply. Perhaps that's why I resisted spending $30 on the LP version--I didn't want to be disappointed. I did opt for the limited edition CD, which contains three extra tracks: "Madonna of the Wasps," "Magpie to the Morning" and "Yon Ferrets Return." I suggest you do the same, especially since Amazon had this version on sale when I bought it last week.
Another slight issue, and this is a personal one, is that I keep waiting for another Neko Case song that's as complete and hypnotic as "Star Witness." Two albums have passed, and she still hasn't topped that combination of lucid imagery, flowing melodies and dark mysticism. (Is it about lost love, difficult childhoods or werewolves?) Amazingly enough, Neko is now 43, no less beautiful or seductive than when she led Neko Case and her Boyfriends (how desirable is that membership?), and she has managed to replace that blackness with wisdom and the aforementioned confidence. But I'd welcome a return to that haunting, perplexing perspective.
Then again, perhaps it's a good idea that I settled for the CD. I want to put this in my car and play it over and over. I have to drive to Denver alone next month for the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, probably at night, and I can't think of a better companion for the trip over the Rockies.