Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You is more than just the single best title for a record ever. It’s an album that’s stayed with me for months, partly because there’s no album like it that I know. It’s restless and inventive at every turn, refusing to settle into any obvious genre. Yes, there’s a basic underpinning of rock in the structure of some songs, and an indelible hint of alt-country in the way she sings, but descriptors like that can’t begin to contain Neko any more than the Opera House could contain that tempest of a voice. On top of all that, The Harder I Fight… is the peak of her gift as a lyricist to date. Sometimes opaque, sometimes painfully bare, her stories are as devastating as the voice that delivers them. It’s an album that grows with every listen, and listening again today was no exception.
It seems to be something of a pattern in this Experiment, that I find myself listening to familiar things and hearing them with new ears (please adjust this metaphor to whatever other medium you choose). The Harder I Fight… is no different, struck as I was by the one-two punch of ‘Man’ and ‘I’m From Nowhere’. I hadn’t missed the clenched-teeth defiance of ‘Man’ and its furious bridge (“a woman’s heart is the watermark/by which I measure everything”, which would make a terrific motto for the Ladyist Experiment, I think); what had slipped me by was the more subtle resistance of ‘I’m From Nowhere’.
(Listen to the whole song, so I don’t have to include every single piece of brilliant lyric)
Softer and more reflective than ‘Man’, it’s no less a definitive statement on gender roles and the obstacles women face in performing businesses like the music industry. The simplicity of a line like, “you say I’m lucky to be here/but I’ve been driving for 21 days” buries the venom at its heart; once she sings, “if you only knew/what my candied fists could do”, though, that challenge is clear. She’s earned her place, and she’ll be damned if she’ll some patronising fuckers get in her way.
I wish I could sing along. That’s a big wish, since Neko’s voice is a force of nature, but it’s also a side-effect of this Experiment that I hadn’t considered earlier. My own baritone voice, perfect for singing along with the likes of Johnny Cash or Matt Berninger, falls apart in the registers more common in my current music collection. It seems obvious, but I’m a little surprised at how much that has thrown me. I’m no professional, but singing along is a huge part of connecting with music for me, as I’m sure it is for lots of people. To be relegated to singing backup or lower harmonies has forced me to reflect on how lucky I am to have my voice so often represented. Since grand, melismatic vocal styles are so prized in female singers, I imagine more accessible, imitable singers would mean a huge amount to those who felt unrepresented by the Mariah Careys of the world. That said, let’s not discount the allure of a great voice: Idina Menzel has become a name familiar to millions after the unique success of the Frozen soundtrack and ‘Let It Go’ in particular, so clearly there’s some resonance there, too.
Or maybe I’m making too much of it. Does being able to sing along matter to you? Am I being an essentially rockist twit for assuming as much? (Probably). What do you sing along to, technical ability notwithstanding?