Neko Case – The Worse Things Get…

Neko Case
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Ms. Case sure didn’t spare the verbiage on this one, did she? The excessiveness of the title, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (which will henceforth be referred to as TWTG), however, is not the indicator of a difficult or abstruse album. This is one of Neko’s great ones.

Through her career, Case has been known to deliver quirky vignette-style songs that vary from the usual verse-chorus-verse structure. For example, 2005’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (her finest moment thus far, to my ears) is chock full of abrupt tracks that seem more like fragments than songs per se. In this way Case has a lot in common with Guided By Voices auteur, Robert Pollard, another master of the oblique. Pollard pulls off the songs-as-fragments thing because of his strong melodies and because, well, Bob can cram more ideas into a 45 second sliver of song than the usual artist has in an entire album. Likewise, Case is a deft wordsmith and songwriter unbound by convention – plus she has the X-factor secret weapon, that voice.

But TWTG is not encumbered by the aforementioned obliqueness. What we have here is a selection of rock solid songs with catchy melodies and big choruses. This is not to say, however, that the album is exactly straightforward.

Apparently Case has gone through some kind of crisis. So TWTG (which, unfortunately, does not include lyrics in the CD booklet) is mired in a sense of tension and world-weariness that gives the album its edge. Curiously, TWTG is liberally peppered with the F-bomb, which I think is a first for Case. (There goes the chance of getting any airplay for certain tracks. C’est la vie!)

Case’s voice (aided and abetted by former Atlanta belter Kelly Hogan on backing vocals) is the best instrument in her excellent band. The songs span the gamut from edgy powerpop/rock to country to torch. So, while tracks like “Wild Creatures” and “Local Girl” are more or less structurally conventional, they all have kind of a dark, world-weary and/or creepy undertone that transcends pop. Once again, Case’s siren song seduces us into a whirlpool of woe and turmoil – and the world is a better place for it.