“The Worse Things Get…” by Neko Case

Neko Case knows what it means to be a woman in the modern generation. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say she defines what it means to be a modern woman in her latest album The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Gorgeous, strong, and introspective, the album raises Case’s status as a musician as she masters her voice and fuses her signature sound.

Released on September 3rd, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You is Case’s sixth studio album and the second on which she’s been the executive producer. (“We are all the producer. Everyone involved,” she writes in the liner notes). And if the title is any consideration to the album’s strength, the anadiplosis repetition in “Harder I Fight” can certainly be said to foreshadow Case’s skillful songwriting on the record.

The album starts out wistfully with the track “Wild Creatures,” which begins slowly and introduces her overarching theme of feminine strength. “Hey, little girl, would you like to be the King’s pet or the King?” she sings as the song takes off, building strength with effective, cacophonous echoes before her voice brings the tempo back down and ends quietly with, “There’s no mother’s hands to quiet me.”

The first few tracks lead up to the powerhouse, defiant pop-rock song “Man.” A favorite at WERS, the song is feisty, gritty, and all about domination. Case sings with an edgy, darker tone, “I’m a man, that’s what you raised me to be.” The track has lifting guitar riffs that create vibrant, fierce energy that highlight Case’s versatility. Her music has what it takes to encompass multiple genres.

After “Man” is a hidden, softer gem, “I’m From Nowhere.” Quiet and acoustic at first, the track appears to be all about delicacy. Case declares her self-sufficiency in a soft arrangement with the accompaniment of quiet strumming. However, don’t let the melodic sweetness fool you as the song is actually about re-defining the lady. Case sings, “I was surprised when you called me a lady/ Cause I’m still not so sure that’s what I want to be.” The acoustic mellowed down indie charm only helps to uncover the grit as more attention is focused on her lyrics. “If you only knew/ what my candied fist could do,” she sings along calmly, asserting her toughness. Her declaration of toughness is done with grace though- a grace that only adds to her redefinition of what it means to be a woman.

The softer acoustic introductions continue on in a few other tracks as Case deals with both the lighter and darker issues of life. In “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” she sings in the perspective of a bystander witnessing child abuse. The instruments are silenced throughout this track and the harsh dialogue between a mother and a child is juxtaposed with harmonic voices. The track brings listeners on a raw and eerie journey that wouldn’t be effective with any other singer but Case. Her vocal range gives her control over the mood in each lyric she sings. She ends this darker track with the comforting power of acknowledgement- “It happened” Case sings, “Kid, have your say/ ‘Cause I still love you/ even if I don’t see you again.”

The lighter and happier aspects of life can be found in the later and final track “Ragtime.” With a strong beat, the song is accessible to everyone. “This could be any evening, and any place,” Case sings. The song is easy to tap along to, easy to catch on to. Truly reminiscent of a more joyful ragtime with trumpets and other brass instruments, Case sings, “I’ll reveal myself invincible soon.” It’s easy to believe her. The encouraging tempo seems to allude to taking one’s time, in a “cocoon,” of earning that strength to break free from whatever holds us down. Likewise, the track “Where Did I Leave that Fire?” speaks of that same courage and strength to break free. It begins eerily, like the edges of night as Case’s voice leads steadily to the buildup. She sings it slow and steady, “I shook off all the strength I’d earned.” The fire seems to burn just at the bridge of the song. The drums grow louder, the beat picking up earth, and Case sings on, still steady, “Where did I leave that fire?” There’s no doubt that she found it.

By Ashley Kane

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