Between that distinctive razor-edged voice and some of the most interesting lyricism you’ll ever hear, Neko Case is a force to be reckoned with. I was already convinced of this before now, but with her latest release The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, she’s outdone herself. Never one to shy away from the esoteric, eccentric or just plain weird, with this record Case seems to have removed many of her own boundaries, but still manages to produce a piece of singer-songwriter art that is as cohesive as it is diverse.
Case has already demonstrated she is comfortable in a variety of styles—cutting her teeth on Vancouver punk, maintaining a steady berth on the power-pop of The New Pornographers, and establishing herself in the alt-country vein with her solo work. But with The Worse Things Get…, while that tinge of country is still present, she simply seems to break out of that mold, venturing wherever her creative mind takes her. The end result is sort of an indie-rock-meets-Patsy-Cline kind of vibe that is really unlike anything anything else—except, perhaps, Neko Case.
Even under the loose-fitting label “indie-rock,” Case frequently resists categorization, at different times visiting retro-pop, jangly guitar-rock, folk and “experimental,” for lack of a better word. Occasionally she stops by her home-base of country (“Calling Cards”) along with punk (“Man”) and even gospel (“Night Still Comes,” “Local Girl”). By the time we get to “Where Did I Leave That Fire,” a strange cocktail that sounds like it’s emanating from space and underwater at the same time, we’ve been to so many different places musically that we just accept it for what it is.
Of course, as with all her records, the strongest suit on The Worse Things Get… is Case’s creative lyrics. This girl is the only songwriter I know who can throw out lyrics stream-of-consciousness style and still have them somehow make sense (sometimes). “Night Still Comes” opens with the creative line, “My brain makes drugs to keep me slow / A hilarious joke for some dead pharaoh / But now not even the masons know / What drug will keep night from coming.” Another example is the lovelorn lyricism in “City Swan:” “I can’t look at you straight on / You’re made from something different than I know / My eyes are on the sidewalk, it’s gum holding your feet / I swear under my breath / Because I’m starving in your gravity.” One thing that hasn’t changed with this record is Case’s ability to fluctuate easily between belle and bitch, as believable when she sings “Every heartbreak, I love you more” as when she sings “If I’m dipshit drunk on the pink perfume / Then I am the man in the f**king moon.”
Many memorable moments exist on this album, but one of the most poignant among them is “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” With only her voice and a few effects, Case rambles through the story of waiting at the airport for a plan and watching a mother verbally abuse her child at the airport: “Get the f**k away from me / Why don’t you ever shut up?” The song is written to the child as a way of attempting to undo the damage: “One day when you ask yourself did it really happen / You won’t believe it, but yes it did, and I’m sorry…Don’t you ever shut up / Please, kid, have your say”. It’s ghostly, moving and brilliant.
There are those critics who will no doubt criticize this album as a bit manic for all the ground it covers, but to me, it just sounds like Neko Case being herself. I love the creativity, the diversity and the range of emotion this album expresses, and that makes it one of her best so far. The Worse Things Get… may end up being by very favorite Neko Case album, and it’s certainly on my list for one of the best of the year.