Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Neko Case’s New Album a Blaze of Hope, Redemption, Style

Neko Case never disappoints.

Ever since Blacklisted, her 2002 release, the level of quality of her alt-country/folk/indie rock/Americana songwriting has never faded. Her newest release, the wordy The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is no exception. It has all the qualities of a good album: It has an emotional arc, the songs are cohesive, the lyrics are creative and beautifully expressive, and the instrumentation is flawless and not excessive in any way.

It’s a relatively short LP, clocking in at 38 minutes, but Case simply isn’t sacrificing quality for quantity. She opts for songs that are short, but sweet isn’t really the right word to describe them; it’s more like the tracks are compact, and in that trimming of any possible excess, they’re anything but assuming and superfluous.

Her lyrics, as always, are thoughtful and straight from the heart. The songs tell a story of a hopeful, but realistic woman; the first several tracks are empowering and full of strength and hope. “You never held it at the right angle,” she assures listeners in “Night Still Comes.” Another stand-out track is “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” It’s completely devoid of instrumentation; it plays more like an anecdote than a song. Case gently sings the story of a boy she saw being yelled at by his mother, and then proceeds to console anyone who has ever felt neglected or unloved.

The album slowly regresses, however, into a dark place that hits bottom with the second-to-last and longest track “Where Did I Leave That Fire.” The song opens with a far-away sonar beep, emulating the abyss of the deep ocean. Case proceeds to croon about being uncomfortable in her own body, and losing her “fire.” However, the album finds redemption with the finale, “Ragtime.” The tempo picks up and Case returns to her normal sardonic, pleasant, musical self.

This gentle slope from positive to negative and back to positive is what makes this album great. Too often records are just a cacophony of songs. When an album has beautiful music but also tells a story, when you can clearly trace the line of emotion the songwriter wants you to follow, that’s what makes it truly great.

In The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Case sings of optimism, but doesn’t fail to remind her listeners to be cautious about living in a daydream. She wants us to know that we can’t be happy without being sad once in a while; one can’t exist without the other.

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