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The Sirens of Greek mythology were beautiful and terrible sea demons, the original femme fatales, who would lure unsuspecting sailors to a gory and horrific death. It may be a phrase used frivolously in music writing to describe female singer-songwriters of note, but it’s a perfect fit for Neko Case. Her latest album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is yet another tour de force of dark, cynical and fantastic lyrics sung with brilliant clarity and power.
In the 16 years since her debut album The Virginian, Case has slowly and surely worked her way towards crafting albums devoid of generic influence, defined by their originality and ability to surprise. She has come a long way since then, from a drummer in Canadian punk bands, to a singer in country bands and the pop outfit The New Pornographers, to her current position as Siren-General of alternative rock.
As the years have gone by, her music has become decidedly surreal, dark and, until now, entirely non-introspective. Where most other singer-songwriters are praised for the deeply personal nature of their work, Case was previously more interested in singing from, say, the perspective of a tornado on This Tornado Loves You.
Following several years of depression – due to the deaths of family members – Case has now come out with her most soul-searching work. At no point on The Worse Things Get… does Case come off as trite or arrogant, or anything less than completely genuine. This new-found self-reflection has resulted in a singularly potent and irrepressible album, perhaps the best of her oeuvre.
Despite her articulate nature and the overwhelming beauty of her voice, Case’s songs have a tendency to be harsh, critical and almost caustic: on Man she sings with authority, “And if I’m the dips**t drunk on the pink perfume/I am the man on the f**king moon/Cause you didn’t know what a man was/Until I showed you.” Bracing for Sunday and Local Girl are other tracks which show off this dark side to her writing, and are some of the most memorable on the album.
If her 2009 masterpiece Middle Cyclone was Case as a huge tidal wave threatening thousands of fleeing citizens, on The Worse Things Get… she’s the minute of silence after the wave has hit and the realisation sets in. Afraid is one of her most dainty songs, an almost nursery-rhyme style vocal poetry laid over a cautious piano, and yet there’s something in the depth of her vulnerability that is completely engaging.
If Neko Case really is the siren of our generation, a female singer with the power to kill through music, then this album is her most deadly weapon: it’s a collection of dark and mysterious tracks, designed with the purpose of drawing you in and destroying you.