There are a few figures that are universally beloved in indie-dom, and maybe nobody this side of punk icon/wronged woman Kim Gordon is as beloved these days as Neko Case. Both on her own and as part of the Canadian alt-collective The New Pornographers (QRO live review), Case has a litany of strong releases in this century/millennium. She’s also a great character, engaging and more than a little crazy (plus just the right level of alt-attractive). She’s the kind of person who could title her record The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You and no one would complain about the long name (Fiona Apple couldn’t get away with that – QRO album review). The Worse is a strong record, if not as wonderful as Case is herself.
Time and again on The Worse, there are great songs that are at least somewhat undercut by unnecessary ambitions. “Man” has a great gallop, while the following “I’m From Nowhere” is excellent alt-country – but both come off as a bit preachy. Even more preachy is the virtually stripped to choral voice “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”, where Case sings to a child she saw cursed at by her mother (in an airport in Honolulu) – one can’t help but think that Case is overdoing it a bit (and pretty quick to judge for catching a second of it, and not being a mother herself), but it is certainly memorable. Meanwhile, the slow step that gets big and bold closer “Ragtime” has added silence at the end before a few seconds of Case – when will artists stop with silent breaks & hidden tracks (they haven’t been novel since the nineties…)? Even opener “Wild Creatures” isn’t as powerful as it seems to think it is, making for a poor introduction to the record.But when Case nails it, she nails it. “Man” & “Nowhere” are still strong songs, and before them comes the slightly soul-cabaret “Night Still Comes”. “Night”, the carrying & moving “Calling Cards”, and alt-country up-swing “City Swans” fulfill every promise that people see in Case, while “Bracing For Sunday” is the bold Case that you’ve been looking for.
Being ultra-beloved can be a double-edged sword, as no one is there to tell you that you’ve made a mistake. Neko Case doesn’t fall into any seriously egotistical trap on The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (besides the excessively long title trap…), and her ambitions are never misplaced. It’s just that one doesn’t need to judge it based on how much everyone loves Case, but just on how good it actually is.