I’ve been in a weird place lately, in which every life moment is defined by either Cloud Nothings’ new album or by Neko Case songs. That’s probably not a positive thing, but at least the soundtrack is good.
Case’s most recent album, The Worse Things Get…, sits in a sort of unique place in her discography (for me). If someone were to ask me which of Case’s albums is my favorite, I’d quickly answer Middle Cyclone or Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Yet if I took the time to actually list out the songs I most often play from each of her albums, The Worse Things Get… would easily win out.
How to account for this? As a former (college) radio DJ, I’m inclined to say it has something to do with the sequencing of the album. Of course, radio DJs always think we know how to put a bunch of songs in order better than actual artists do…
Instead, I think it has more to do with each album’s opening statement. The Worse Things Get's “Wild Creatures” is brilliant, but as a leadoff track it begins the album by confronting the audience. Directed to other women, Case asks, “Hey little girl, would you like to be / The king's pet or the king?” It's a position of acerbic empathy, acknowledging that women aren't afforded the same options as men (“I am fighting to be wild”), while still challenging them to make independent choices. Don't settle for being an ornament; you can be your own person.
Past Case albums have opened with softer stances. Middle Cyclone's “This Tornado Loves You” is a humorously sad tale of a tornado trying to find love (and, naturally, destroying everything in the process). Fox Confessor's “Margaret vs. Pauline” pits the stories of its eponymous heroines against each other; one who seems fated to misfortune while the other leads a charmed life. Accompanied by a forlon, delicate piano line, one can't help but pull for the underdog Margaret, even as “her bravery is mistaken for thrashing in the lake.” Pitchfork’s review of the album nailed this song perfectly, noting the presence of “something palpably uncomfortable— a vague, inescapable sense of loss.” Likewise, “Timber” and “Set Out Running,” openers for Case’s first two albums, both capture that sense of loss, albeit set within the frame of personal heartbreak.
The lone exception here is Blacklisted's “Things That Scare Me,” in which Case assumes the persona of a would-be killer: “The hammer clicks in place / The whole world's gonna pay.” It's a harrowing lead-in to the next track, “Deep Red Bells,” about growing up in Tacoma while the Green River Killer was active.
Each of the album openers can be found in GTI’s Neko Case mix on Spotify: