It's not beyond Neko Case to write her songs in the voice of a variety of characters, and a male's narrative hasn't been one she's shied from. In "Man" featuring M. Ward -- the first full song to arrive from the songwriter's new album -- there's something explicit in the way in which she writes about gender identity as central to its message.
In the song stream below, you'll actually see Case dressed as a man with a mustache and button-up, leading the reins of a horse in one hand and holding a lit lighter in another. It's a classic, if antiquated, take on a "man."
"I'm a man, that's what you raised me to be / I'm not your identity crisis, this was planned," she sings. "If I'm dipsh*t drunk on pink perfume* then I am the man in the f*cking moon, because you didn't know what a man was until I showed you."
Lined with Ward's heavy, fun ballsy riffs and a big tempo, Case's song is about grand gestures, exaggerated swagger and turning what a "man" is into a singular notion. "That's the kind of animal I am / it's that simple."
And that's why I think "Man" is another shining example of Case's wit: the things she's doing with her definition of a "man" are precisely what writers insist on doing with the definition of "woman." It takes normativity to the extreme, lines like "the woman's heart is the watermark by which I measure," a truism with which many men would disagree, but yet it persists. "I'm the man's man, always been," sings the woman with harpsichord delicately plunking in the background.
While I don't know if it was an influencer on Case, "Man" reminds me of the song "I'm a Woman," which was written by famous (male) team Leiber & Stoller. It was made famous by Peggy Lee, then covered by, say, Bette Midler, and (even more interestingly) Raquel Welch and Miss Piggy. It backed a perfume commercial in the '70s. It defines the woman by her ability to fill a man with good eats, to be a child-bearer and care-taker, to iron and clean and pay the bills. Or "get back to business," in Beyonce parlance, a multifaceted yet still limiting image on the definition of "woman."
Whether Case has taken on a "he" character, or sings as a woman in male "drag" or caricature, or is even spinning the character as "raised" transgender, she's using rock 'n' roll to do her bidding, making a complex discussion out of a simple word. As the "Him" in She & Him, previously collaborator Ward is just icing on this cake.
Beside just simply being a fun, cool song, "Man" is also the leading single from "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You," Neko Case's new album. The set will officially drop via Anti- on Sept. 3. Below the song is the official tracklist, which includes a cover of Nico's "Afraid." Steve Turner, members of the New Pornographers, My Morning Jacket, Calexico, Los Lobos, and Immaculate Noise favorites Howe Gelb and Rachel Flotard (Visqueen) guest on the album.
"My brain wilderness is more dense and dangerous than I thought... It was an embarrassing and hilarious march, but I now feel like a more streamlined being. It's a good feeling. Four years of my life took ten years hostage, then gave me back twelve," Case wrote mysteriously in a statement. Looking forward to the rest.
* Pink drinks! Squee!(?)
Here is the tracklist for "The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You":
1. "Wild Creatures"
2. "Night Still Comes"
4. "I'm From Nowhere"
5. "Bracing for Sunday"
6. "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu"
7. "Calling Cards"
8. "City Swan"
10. "Local Girl"
11. "Where Did I Leave That Fire"
Deluxe Edition bonus tracks:
13. "Madonna of the Wasps"
14. "Magpie to the Morning"
15. "Yon Ferrets Return"
Here are Neko Case's 2013 tour dates:
June 22 - North Adams, MA @ Solid Sound Festival
July 6 - Ottawa, ON @ Ottawa Blues Festival
July 7 - Toronto, ON @ Toronto Urban Roots Fest
August 9 - Edmonton, AB @ Edmonton Folk Festival
August 11 - Regina, AB @ Regina Folk Festival
August 24-25 - Monterey, CA @ First City Festival
September 6 - Chicago, IL @ A.V. Fest/Hideout Block Party
September 8 - Portland, OR @ MusicFest NW
September 11 - San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
September 12 - Phoenix, AZ @ Orpheum Theater
September 13 - Santa Fe, NM @ Lensic Performing Center
September 14 - Denver, CO @ The Ellie Caulkins
September 16 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Red Butte Garden
September 17 - Boise, ID @ The Knitting Factory
September 18 - Seattle, WA @ The Paramount
September 19 - Eugene, OR @ The Cuthbert Amphitheater
September 20 - Vancouver, BC @ Orpheum Theater
September 25 - Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
September 26 - New York, NY @ Radio City Music Hall
October 4-6 - Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits Festival
October 5-6 - Los Angeles, CA @ Way Over Yonder Fest
October 11-13 - Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits Festival
October 15 - Lawrence, KS @ Liberty Hall
October 16 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
October 17 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
October 19 - Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
October 20 - St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant
October 23 - Nashville, TN @ The Cannery
October 24 - Atlanta, GA @ Buckhead Theatre
October 26 - Durham, NC @ The Durham Performing Arts Center
October 27 - Charlottesville, VA @ The Paramount
November 1 - Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre