on September 1, 2013
Listening context: This album became available to listen to via streaming approximately two weeks before official release on [...] First Listen page. I have listened to it on a daily basis during that period. I believe this is important to know since most Neko songs take a while to digest.
Neko Case is finally back after more than a four year absence since her latest release, Middle Cyclone, which dates back to March 2009, with the long titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. The Neko Case sound is very much still intact. There is, is my view, a gradual change still taking place in her emphasis. While her earlier recordings were more country oriented, her (fantastic) 2006 Fox Confessor Brings the Flood veered towards alt-country with some eccentric twists. That album nailed such a combination perfectly with some incredible tunes such as Star Witness and The Needle Has Landed (heavy Neil Young influence). Middle Cyclone was similar but something of a Fox-Lite experience, being more pop music oriented but yet warmer. It was a mixture of clear cut pop tunes like This Tornado Loves You (why it was not promoted more is still a mystery to me) and more complex ones like Prison Girls and The Next Time You Say Forever. The eccentric style from Fox had thus paved the way for a warmer and straightforward production.
The Worse... is in a sense a continuation of this process. The first glimpse of the album is Neko's voice singing When you catch life, you look like your mother.... There are some very tender songs on this album, as if Neko was being intent on opening her heart in some instances to her listeners. That being said, it is a real grower and is on par with Middle Cyclone in my opinion. That is not to say that Neko has lost her sense of adventure in production; cases in point are Afraid (resembles some Middle Cyclone songs) and the joyful closer, Ragtime. The album drifts like Middle Cyclone between slow and fast tunes. This works better on this album than Middle Cyclone, which was in my opinion the main flaw (minor one) on that album.
In whole this is a great set. The one sore exception is Nearly Midnight, Honolulu. Besides the unnecessary overuse of the F-word, the song sounds more like an experimental tunes best left for friends having a beer together rather than a tune stuck in between other great (and mostly warm) songs. It could also be slightly longer; 38 minutes of material is rather short.It is a bit tempting ducking a star because of these two aspects.
In whole, I strongly recommend this album. Those yearning for a more Fox type of album may be disappointed since it steers more towards Middle Cyclone. Those ready for added warmth from Neko, The Worse... is a treasure.
Deluxe version: Includes 3 additional tunes. Madonna of the Wasps is a splendid and fun version of a 20+ old Robyn Hitchcock song. Magpie to the Morning and Yon ferrets Return are old Neko tunes. Magpie is a more of a country version of the contry noir take on Middle Cyclone and Yon Ferrets Return is a fast paced song that I have not heard before and cannot thus compare to its earlier version.
I've listened to "The Worse Things Get" repeatedly since I got an advance copy a week ago, and I love it more each time. Neko Case's sixth solo release is a challenging and heartfelt recording that has taken four years to produce. Its quality is worthy of her best albums. A more pensive mood prevails this time around, but there are many moments of rock grandeur, particularly on the first single, "Man," and the final track, "Ragtime."
The album's long title may make it seem like she's gone all Fiona Apple on us, yet Neko is still Neko. There's moodiness and haunting personal revelation, but a few of the tunes are upbeat, and they blend together beautifully. Her musical collaborators include M. Ward and members of My Morning Jacket, Camera Obscura, Los Lobos, Calexico, and Case's own band, The New Pornographers, all very good company. They contribute soaring, richly layered accompaniment.
I've followed Case since the late 1990s, when she lived and performed here in Seattle and put out her first solo record, "The Virginian," a superb tribute to her country roots. But she's refused to be identified with any single genre (including "country noir") and has constantly evolved to create her own unique sound. Since 2009's "Middle Cyclone," she went through a deep depression after losing her beloved grandmother and both of her parents, who suffered from mental illness and substance abuse. Those painful experiences are reflected in her new music.
Family dynamics are central to the dramatic album opener, "Wild Creatures." Gender issues are featured on other tracks, such as "Man" and the equally rocking "Bracing for Sunday," which has a tragic tale at its core. We hear the loneliness of life on the road in "I'm from Nowhere," "Calling Cards," and the harmony-filled "Local Girls." "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" is an arresting a cappella vignette of verbal violence, while a cover of Nico's "Afraid" is a delicate enigma (and yes, Nico and Neko are pronounced the same way: NEE-ko).
Through these songs, it feels like Case is attempting a kind of catharsis. The clarity of her fabulous voice and the brutal honesty of her lyrics (f-bomb alert!) make a potent emotional combination, simultaneously tender and tough. No doubt she will move on to new territory, but the one she's staked out here is a wonderful place to reflect on what the vicissitudes of life and the passage of time do to our hearts and minds.
The deluxe edition of "The Worse Things Get" includes three bonus tracks, the first of which is a cover of a Robyn Hitchcock tune; the remaining two revisit songs from the "Middle Cyclone" period.
on October 8, 2013
I'm a big fan and basically consider "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" as a desert-island disc. "Middle Cylone" was still quite wonderful, but something changed a bit on this album. The previous albums had some incredibly powerful songs and while this album has them, there are just fewer occurrences of them. Perhaps it's the characterizations of "Fox Confessor..." that set that album apart and the mixture of good interpretations of others' work ("Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth", "Don't Forget Me") coupled with some whimsy ("This Tornado Loves You", about a dream she had about a tornado with romantic tendancies, along with "Middle Cylone" and the goofy instrumentation chosen for that son). Nothing on this album quite tugs at the heartstring as when Neko sings "...and I choke it back, how much I need love" on "Middle Cyclone".
That said, this is still a really solid effort but I agree with those fans who recognize that it is not her best work. While swearing in songs does not shock me at this point in my life, I did find it mildly disappointing that some of the catchier tunes relied on F-bombs that might prevent the entire family from partaking in Neko's still-gorgeous voice. The album really peaks with "Calling Cards" and "City Swans", the most toe-tapper of the lot. "Calling Cards" especially recalls some of Neko's more touching songs such as "Middle Cyclone" and "At Last", but it's the climb towards a climax at the end when Neko really could let loose but doesn't quite when she sings "with our arms around each other/and our faith still in each other". It's this dance with the edge of a climax that I so enjoy in Neko's songs; and had there been a bit more of that here, I'd rate this at 5 stars instead of 4.
I've been a huge fan of Neko since Fox Confessor and have all her studio albums and some of the live stuff. I always wait anxiously for her new albums, and this one was no exception. I heard a preview on NPR of "Where Did I Leave that Fire?" and was a little underwhelmed, but still preordered the album and immediately popped it in for a listen when it was released. And... it just doesn't do anything for me. Typically, I absolutely love over half of the songs on her albums, I like most of the rest, and there are usually one or two duds that I just skip. I pretty much always absolutely love the albums from the beginning and that usually deepens as I listen to it more. For this album, it felt like an album of duds with a couple songs (like Local Girl) that are just "likes", and that hasn't improved as I've forced myself to listen to it again hoping it would grow on me.
As for the Deluxe version, I find Madonna of the Wasps to be the strongest addition. Yon Ferrets Return is kind of blah, and I almost feel like deleting all traces of Magpie to the Morning. That was one of my favorite songs on Middle Cyclone, one of the most beautiful songs she has ever released, and this version is vastly inferior in every way including her vocals which sound like she phoned it in compared to how emotional the original was. I'm almost mad that she released this, especially after it was just on the last album.
I love Neko, and have seen her live, and will continue to be a huge fan. Every artist needs to express themselves in different ways, but this album just didn't speak to me.
on October 4, 2013
I really had high hopes for this album, but I am disappointed once again. I have been a big fan of Neko's since The Virginian and thought everything she released up until Middle Cyclone was fantastic. That was a mediocre album and much of this album sounds like the songs that didn't make it onto that one. The song arrangements are tired after being trotted out for three consecutive albums. The lyrics are becoming more "standing-on-a-soapbox-and-whining" than what I care to hear. I used to think she was a punk-as-f#ck country singer, but now I think she's drifted towards jazz-lounge-singer. Her voice still gives me cold chills, though.
on December 19, 2013
"The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You" is certainly a mouthful of a title, yet is actually a very succinct indication of what headspace and direction Neko went for with this album. Neko primarily wrote this album during a period of unexpected dark depression stemming from the deaths of several family members. In songs like "Where Did I Leave the Fire", you can hear the disconnect and isolation in her voice and lyrics. Neko is simply too fine of a songwriter to fall back on cliched tropes like "I'm feeling lost" though. Instead she paints sensual stories that are visual representations of more abstract and complicated feelings like not feeling bad about a parent's death and not knowing how to process that or what that says about her as a person.
Bracing for Sunday" is a particular favorite. It's a modern interpretation of a traditional Celtic murder ballad with Neko's alternative rock/country twist. "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" is all acapella and is a positively heartbreaking look into Neko's relationship with her (now dead) abusive and manipulative mother. "Ragtime" is an inspiring end to the main album, as it is Neko's ode to the one music genre that was able to give her joy in the midst of her depression. The horns are a great touch that I hope Neko experiments more with in the future.
In many ways, this album doesn't stray that far musically from what people have come to expect from Neko (fantastic vocals, effective alternative country/rock), but this is hands down some of her most gutsy and naked songwriting. And recognizing what an achievement that is when one is already one of the most respected modern songwriters, that makes this album a must listen as well as another cornerstone in Neko's lasting musical legacy.
Very enjoyable, with plenty of musical range. Would definitely recommend to fans to add this album to the collection.
on March 16, 2015
I get the mediocre reviews now, because it has taken me until a few weeks ago to get into this album. I'd play it sometimes--Night Still Comes was an early stand out for me (A boreal feast; Let it finish me please--are you fn kidding me yesss)--but it didn't grab me.
So, why 5 stars now? I dunno man; I recently watched the NPR Tiny Desk Concert with Case in a gorilla suit and Kelly Hogan as some sort of gory scarecrow and Eric Bachmann in the back with a weird beard, and Local Girl was such a stand out performance with this almost alarming level of pathos just below the surface. Like, tears in my eyes. Hogan and Case singing is just the sound I wanna hear all the time.
They both make it look too easy, and I think we fans can take it for granted. And yeah this album is a bit of a change up from her past. And the songs are brief and you want more. Calling Cards is such a warm song with just a bit of road dust. I wish I had friends like that.
on October 21, 2013
I was a latecomer to Neko, found her doing some music searches on Amazon one night about 3 years ago. Immediately taken by that voice -- noone else close, powerful & captivating, with great range & dynamism, coupled with a great backing band. I browsed thru her catalog (at the time up thru Middle Cyclone) and found her later stuff to be good, but WOW did her early Blacklisted and Furnace Room Lullabye blow me away. Fabulous alt-country/rock with her voice at times cutting loose with a little-girl sexy sound akin to what Diana Ross used to bring to the Supremes. Unfortunately, that raw youthfulness & distinct rock-twang of the New Pornographers is found less & less on each subsequent release, and this latest is no exception.
It has some really fine tunes & singing on it, no Neko Case release is without those. Its worth the purchase and as all great music does, especially Neko's, it will grow on you. But it is mostly slow to mid-tempo, and nowhere do you hear her really let loose, and the great alt-country sound she & the NPs perfected prior to 2006/07 is gone, replaced now by more introspective middle of the road safe-rock. Still better than 95% of whats out there, but not the Neko & boyfriends that really marked something different. I was hoping for a return to some of that. All great artists grow and move on, but I was hoping to get a newer and even better version of that sound. Maybe thats just not possible.
on February 19, 2014
' "The most potent album of her career." --Pitchfork ' -- um, huh? I feel like this critic is venturing dangerously into awkward hipster territory, saying something that off-base. Here's mine: I LOVE Neko Case, but I just don't like this album.
Now don't get me wrong, lyrically it's wonderful just like everything she's done. Musically not so much. I am just not that into verbal poetry with a refried, vaguely Neko-case-like atmosphere in which to hear it. That's my description of the album. Maybe it hasn't hit me yet and I need to sit with it for a spell longer.
At any rate, when I think of quintessential Neko Case, I think of both Blacklisted and Fox Confessor, not this. The other albums just seem like fun house reflections, permutations, 2nd order derivatives of those two awesome albums, one spookily dark, and the other adventitious and sprightly.
The track Local girl is obviously a hit. But they can't all be winners or else none would stand out.
on September 8, 2013
I agree with the most positive reviews of this album. While it's true that it 'wanders' from some of her earlier sound,
if definite links to her most recent stuff with New Pornographers and her last couple solos, it's very strong to me in its own right.
There certainly is a dark hue to many of the songs here--especially lyrically-- but very intriguing, unpredictable arrangements and surprises, and for me it links together very well. The last three songs are something of addenda, but worthwhile on their own, and
have more of a countryish or folk rock hue. If many of the songs are short, even sketches, they're powerful ones, with elements at once raw and yet 'art songlike' as well. I think really my favorite album of hers since the days of Blacklisted and Canadian Amp (my two
NC faves): yet completely different from them in approach, feel and arranging/songwriting. I've always liked Case: this one I want
to keep playing.