Leave it to Neko Case to pull off a cover of the other great pop-music Nico, and make her version of "Afraid" feel self-aware, witty and totally heartbreaking all at once. The song is one of the centerpieces of the alt-country flamethrower's new album, "The Worse Things Get…," which is both her most personal and imaginative record in years.
As always, Case's voice is a flawless, brassy instrument equally at home in the punk fuzz of "Man" as the lonely sound-art of "Where Did I Leave That Fire." "Bracing for Sunday" finds a perfect sweet spot between the two, with tumbling drums and the reedy saxophones of a hungover morning walk home in the city.
But her writing is some of the most evocative of her career. "Man" is a takedown of masculine ego, but it rocks hard enough to feel sympathetic to male pride. On "Night Still Comes," she sums up the condition of being a successful, fantastically talented singer unable to escape her down dark places — "There's always someone to say it's easy for me / but I revenge myself all over myself, there's nothing you can say to me."
Much of the album was reportedly written in the throes of deep depression over the death of Case's grandmother. But she came out the other side with a beautiful, insightful record to show for it.
'The Worse Things Get…'
Three stars (out of four)