Neko Case, ‘The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You’ – Album Review
To say Neko Case is exorcising demons on ‘The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You’ is unfair. She long ago came to terms with her parents’ failures, and in an interview with NPR, she spoke candidly about their deaths, revealing they never wanted a child and didn’t treat her well.
Still, Case clearly has something to say about her mother, and the country-noir singer-songwriter opens her sixth studio album with the line “When you catch the light, you look like your mother.” The line becomes more meaningful at the conclusion of ‘Wild Creature,’ when she notes “There are no mother’s hands to quiet me.” Case gets brutally blunt on the a capella ‘Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,’ recounting a crushing mother/daughter interaction she once witnessed. “Get the f— away from me,” she sings, quoting the mother. “Why won’t you ever shut up?” Case then notes that no one will believe the youngster when she says “My mother did not love me.”
She speaks to the little girl directly, and these moments feel both cathartic and pragmatic. Case’s songs are never preachy, and she comes across more as noble than as self-absorbed. Even on ‘Man’ and ‘Local Girl,’ where Case gets to play both comedienne and philosopher, there’s nothing to detract from the listening experience, no asterix to place beside the songs to mark them as anything but completely effective and though-provoking. As a songwriter, Case has arguably never been better.
The one disappointing thing about ‘The Worse Things Get…’ is that Case rarely sings with all of her mighty power. On the terrific ‘Ragtime,’ a horn section gets the show-stopping moment. On ‘Where Did I Leave the Fire,’ her storytelling takes center stage. Case is a fantastic singer, and while she holds back here from showing off, her control and poise are nearly as impressive. Ultimately, on the disc’s finale, Case gives in and backs up herself up with reaching vocals that repeat “People have a way of forgetting.” It’s a playful bow, and it suggests we’re more likely to forget our traumas than forget the album.