Sometimes an album so deeply layered comes along that it shatters your expectations for a quick fix of familiarity in the most violent way. That was the case with Fiona Apple’s album with the long name from a few years ago. Another album with an equally long name from Neko Case had a similar effect.
Neko Case like other Canadians artist K.D. Lang have poked at American musical genres like country from the outside of the Nashville bubble. That outsider effect often produces interesting fusions. For Case, it’s been country with indie rock. That fusion has been consistent throughout her career with little in the way of dramatic disruptions stylistically.
2009’s Middle Cyclone was something of a disruptive change. The follow up was more disruptive, resulting in an album comparable to the reserved joy of dark chocolate vs the instant gratification of milk chocolate.
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You became more had its sweet candy moments of near pop and familiarity, but its experiments made it an album that demanded to be listened to closely – rewarding the listener with surprises.
Neko Case’s career has always been full of surprises. Be it with her sometimes band The New Pornographers or her own revolving group of backup musicians, she normally refines more than re-creates her sound with each new release.
The Worse Things Get,.. was one of the few Case albums that had to grow on me at first listen. The bits that were familiar sounding like “City Swans” (an initial favorite) was quickly eclipsed by more daring compositions.
Case channeled all or her personas on this one. The country blues of ‘Wild Creatures” mixes well with dirt road anthems like “Ragtime”. Because this is a Neko Case album, it would not be complete without some experimental tracks like “Where did I Leave that Fire?”. All the songs are infused with Cases’s usual weird country girl persona – like a more polished Michelle Shott. On top of this, she adds a sensibility that recalls everyone from Patsy Cline’s crooning to Dusty Springfield’s spunk.
Also present is the wit and humor fans have come to expect. Songs like the role reversal of “Man” and the shock chorus of “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” are typical of Case’s sublime humor wrapped in a social commentary- never preachy but always sharp. Despite the quiet angst of “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”, the song manages to be one of the albums most beautiful and contemplative moments.
The More Things Get,… benefits from a vast array of contributions from members who act as session musicians from bands like Calexico, Los Lobos, My Morning Jacket and of course her resident band New Pornographers. On some versions of the album there are reworked songs from previous releases and a cover of “Madonna of the Wasps” from Robin Hitchcock.
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You has become perhaps the most rewarding Neko Case album since Fox Confessor Brings the Flood for me. It’s reassuring that there are still artists like Case who still care about making great music even if it’s at the expense of mainstream chart exposure.