Neko Case has a neat name, a terrific Twitter account and a brazen, brassy alto. She could sing about kale and make it sound good.
But when it comes to songwriting, Case's ambition exceeds her reach, and her magnificent voice can't save the forgettable batch of tunes on "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You." Slight melodies, clunky chord changes and imponderable lyrics leave a listener with little to latch onto. It's as if the composer is chasing so many ideas she can't separate the good ones from the rest.
Case's voice deserves better, but it occasionally rises above the muddle. A sassy delivery enlivens the feminist anthem "Man" and the sax-propelled "Bracing for Sunday" benefits from a hooky chorus. The final tune, "Ragtime," is built on a simple rhythmic riff that provides a welcome jolt because of what's come before.
The clearest message is delivered on Nico's "Afraid." When Neko covers Nico, Case shows how she can shine singing a delicate ballad - and material written by others.