Its her voice that strikes you at first. It’s a clear voice, an honest voice, a strong voice. A voice that’s compelling whether you like alternative country music or not. The first song I heard her sing was “Margaret Vs. Pauline”, the stunning opener to her gorgeous Fox Confessor Brings the Flood album and since then I’ve not heard her sing anything that I’ve not found to be at least ‘quite nice’. Neko Case has a great voice. That’s all there is to it.
It’s never Case’s voice that ever really wavers, if there is any variable, then it’s the quality of the material she’s performing and since her albums have been credited to her alone and not Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, her material has steadily increased in quality.
Neko Case has been wrestling with a folk-rock tag for the last decade, but The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You finds itself comfortably embracing stripped backed tunes like “I’m From Nowhere” and more mainstream indie-rock sounds as found on “Man” and somewhere between the two with the more singer-songwriterly “Bracing for Sunday” and “Calling Cards”. During the intro of her cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s “Madonna of the Wasps”, there’s even space for a little bit of sonic jiggery-pokery that puts me in mind of dance pop, before it melts away into an enjoyably upbeat duet with M. Ward.
On a personal level I love the songs on The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You where there’s just a hint of reverb, a technique which makes Case’s voice sound ever more luxuriant. Then again, when you consider the opening lines, of “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”, which is performed acapella, Case’s voice is entirely shorn of studio trickery and when the studio trickery does make an appearance, it makes for an arresting song which leaps out from the rest of the album.
A similar trick is performed with the start of “Afraid”, where Case’s voice is given a simple and minimalist backing, once again underlining the undeniable quality of her voice. There are the odd moments where you wish her vocals were as naked throughout the whole all album, but that would make these moments that are scattered through The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You just a little bit less special. There’s a lot to be said about showing that level of restraint.
Before I heard The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, I half expected to find Neko Case making confident strides towards the mainstream, but I’m pleased to report she’s not compromising her music for success. Instead her increasing commercial success is a result of her being really very good and her slowly but surely gaining stature as an artist.