Album Review: The Worse Things Get …

 

Neko Case, the queen of country noir, finally, after a four year absence, has a new record. “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You,” due out on Sept. 3, finds Case in rare form, producing some of the best music and most insightful lyrics of her career.

In the past decade Case made quite a name for herself with a trifecta of country-tinged indie records: “Blacklisted” (2002), “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” (2006), and “Middle Cyclone” (2009). The latter received two Grammy nominations and an outpouring of positive reviews.

Despite her success, Case has spent the last few years dealing with depression, the death of her father, and other personal issues. While this is terribly unfortunate for Case, her audience is sure to enjoy the product of her trials and tribulations. “The Worse Things Get …” is powerful, eclectic, dynamic and intimate.

Perhaps the biggest departure from Case’s previous efforts is the content of her lyrics. While prior albums dealt with fictional characters and metaphorical themes, “The Worse Things Get …” finds Case looking into herself for autobiographical material. Given the events leading up to this album, self-reflective songwriting might be expected. Incidentally, in this reviewer’s opinion, the new approach gives listeners a more personal relationship with the music than her previous records.

Case’s powerful, full-bodied voice, which often draws comparison to iconic female vocalists like Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Wanda Jackson, is front-and-center on this album. At times its soft and delicate like on “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” and her stark cover of Nico’s “Afraid.” Elsewhere she sings powerfully and aggressively, as heard on the single, “Man.”

The music is just as dynamic as her vocals. The album opens with the upbeat “Wild Creatures” and “Night Still Comes,” followed by the rollicking rocker, “Man.” The second half of the album turns to more low-key material like “Calling Cards” and the nearly acapella “Afraid.” The album finishes strong with “Ragtime,” a mid-tempo rocker with thumping bassline, pulsing horns and layers of vocals.

“The Worse Things Get …” continues Neko Case’s steady climb to legendary status. Online message boards show numerous fans who would rather hear something like her older material, but given the intimacy of the lyrics, the diversity of the instrumentation, and variety of musical styles and tones, this one could go down as one of the best in her catalog.

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