Neko Case Is A Man, An Animal, A Gorgeous Singer, Ambitious Songwriter Too

Last time around, Neko Case declared she was a “man, man, man eater,” and the title of one of Middle Cyclone’s best songs was “I’m An Animal.”  Now, on her most accessible and strongest solo album, the glorious The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko declares “I’m A Man,” and does a better job of  convincing us than Muddy Waters ever did.  More like a Superman, both the king and the queen of our species.

“Man” was the first song we heard from the new album, and the best instantaneous signal it sent to our brain was that had to be the New Pornographer’s Kurt Dahl on drums.  We love the way most of Neko’s solo albums have had Calexico’s John Covertino hitting the skins, but Covertino is a moody and mysterious artist on the traps; to have the rolling thunder of Kurt Dahl powering things along meant that this was going to be a different kind of Neko Case album.  And it is.

Lest you think, from the title, that Neko’s joined Fiona Apple’s ranks, The Worse Things Get… is the least baroque, most straight ahead rock’n’roll album of her distinguished solo career, even as it retains all of the complex folk song structures we’ve grown to love.  For someone who was introduced to most of  the world through the high camp pop dynamics of the New Pornographers, Neko’s solo albums have always been something way different, as different from those albums as Utah’s Dirty Devil River is from Vancouver Harbour.   We have loved Neko’s voice from the first moment we heard it, but if you had to mark the moment it truly captured our heart, it was actually when she sang backup to Sally Timms on the Mekons’ “City of London” on Journey To The End Of Night. There was just something about the emollient power of her vocals that lassoed our left ventricle and yanked.  But there was such a leap between the pop dynamics of her early role in the New Pornos, which eventually morphed into true co-equal status with A.C. Newman, and the solo albums she recorded with the likes of Calexico and Giant Sand, that while we admired the raw ambition of her songwriting, we didn’t really love the albums.  They were work, punctuated by some songs so great you immediately created a new playlist just to have them star on it.

Even on the great Blacklisted, in which Neko’s funny, marvelous lyrics seemed like a beautiful woman spouting Kant, just to show she’s not just another pretty face, we found the music slow going.  Again, the metaphor to torture is these songs were often like a creek in the beautiful high desert compared to the easy and torrential flow of the Columbia, up there in the geography of the New Pornographers.  We didn’t much enjoy Fox Confessor Brings The Flood,  though Middle Cyclone took on some of the aspect of her satisfying solo album, The Tigers Have Spoken, on which, with a great live band, she kicked ass.  We played Middle Cyclone a lot.  But since we’ve downloaded The Worse Things Get, we can’t stop listening to it — an indicator this is something different, something a little easier, poppier, and yeah, better.

You might think, listening to the opener here, “Wild Creatures,” that we are in for another dark, difficult ride, one where you could admire the scenery, as in a Terence Malick movie, without much loving it.  But by the time we get to “Man,” it’s clear: this is Neko’s masterpiece, at least so far; the album that combines this most ambitious songwriter’s gathering strength with a varied template that makes room for crowd-pleasing melody.  While we’ve always loved hearing Neko’s voice, on the new album, we can have it all.

One Response to “Neko Case Is A Man, An Animal, A Gorgeous Singer, Ambitious Songwriter Too”

  1. […] favorite singers, she’s in a category of, if not one, at least on the tippy top shelf.  We loved this album when it was released at summer’s end, and think it is her finest work, not including some of the high points of The New Pornographers […]

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