By Paul Ricks
Neko Case’s new album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, is one entirely of her own creation. The lyrics are, with a few exceptions, her own. The artwork was put together by Neko Case. The executive producer is Neko Case. Though backed by a band, which depending on the track ranges from twelve to three people, the creative power is completely in her hands without anyone there to act as devil’s advocate. This leads to the album’s weakest aspect: it feels unfinished.
This is not to say that the lyrics aren’t compelling, or the vocals not well done. Even the backing musicians are very good at their job, but at the same time, the sound feels rough, but without the uniqueness of a live show or recording. For instance, Where Did I Leave that Fire begins with a one minute long, very slow build based mostly on sonar samples. The entire song is around three and a half minutes, and the opening mix of sonar and piano is distracting, hard to listen to, and tiring. By the time you hit the vocals you already want to skip to the next song. Even the title of the album needs a little work. Someone needed to point out to Neko that it is harder to sell an album with a title that must be actively memorized. This is especially a shame because these issues distract from everything good about the album.
The album’s second track, Night Still Comes, has found a magical balance between Neko Case’s strong vocals and lyrics, and the backing music (backing is an important word here, this is not an album you would listen to because you love guitar or drums. The instruments are there to back up the singer, and aren’t prominently featured on their own). Ragtime also holds true, strong lyrics, simple music – that is, until the music goes big, fights Neko Case for the spotlight, and drowns out the lyrics.
In the end there is nothing enjoyable about the album. The first time I listened to it I had nothing against it. I just didn’t feel any real need to hear it again. The reasons for listening to Neko Case’s newest work are buried under a series of small and distracting mistakes that, had they been fixed, would have made a great difference in the quality of the finished product. It is really a shame.