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

by Priscilla Eyles Rating:9.5 Release Date:2013-09-02

It's been a little while since Neko Case's last album, 2009's critically acclaimed and brilliant Middle Cyclone, and the singer has experienced a lot of family deaths since then losing her grandmother and both her parents. Consequently, Case went through a period of depression resulting a series of highly personal songs on the new album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, which detail her sense of loss and disconnection.

But this new album is far from a depressing listening experience. What we get is a sense of the real pain and self-destruction she felt, poetically and cathartically rendered on songs such as 'Night Still Comes' ("But I revenge myself all over myself/ There's nothing you can say to me.") and 'Where Did I Leave That Fire' ("I wanted so badly not to be me/ I saw my shadow looking lost/ Checking its pockets for some lost receipt"). As well as sadness about the lack of maternal love (that one can only guess is biographical given the fact that she is on record as saying her unstable mother was "not a good person") on the heartfelt, acapella 'Nearly Midnight, Honolulu'.

Case also balances this with a sense of feistiness and fighter's spirit on songs like the catchy, up-tempo, gender-bending 'Man' ("'Cause you didn't know what a man was/ Until I showed you"), and the gothic, Nick Cave-esque storytelling of 'Bracing for Sunday', telling of late nights, queer love, murder and incest. And there's the uplifting 'Ragtime', telling of the consolation she got from listening to ragtime music while depressed, assuring the listener that things are going to be ok. Even songs like the aforementioned 'Night Comes' contain strong feminist lines to rival Ani DiFranco or Tori Amos ("Did they poison my food? Is it cause I'm a girl?/ If I puked up some sonnets, would you call me a miracle?").

The music itself is strong too, at times a little Beatlesesque, like 'Wild Creatures, (which has a magnificently powerful outro with crashing piano chords and arpeggiated acoustic guitar) or catchy and swaggeringly rocky like 'Man'. Sometimes it's 50s rocakabilly-sounding like the jaunty 'Bracing for Sunday' with its swinging double-bass line and Calexico-like energetic stabs of brass. At times it's gospel music like 'Nearly Midnight, Honolulu', or intimate, jazzy and folky like the gorgeous love song 'Calling Cards' with its subtle muted trumpet line and gently strummed guitar.

There's also the Phil Spectorish 'Local Girl', with its brilliant harmonising, call-and-response and bell sounds. Much of the time, you feel like you're in a late night bar in the Deep South. Case's vocals remain as strong as ever, taking on the emotions of the songs, at times subdued and wary, at other times defiant and powerful and always mesmerising. Case's world is one you want to linger in. Long may she continue to invite us into it.

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