I completely forgot to mention the Neko Case concert in my Music Tidbits post last week! Well, rest assured it was amazing. I actually guessed correctly on a majority of songs (maybe 70-75%) and there were a few surprises! She talked to the audience and her band quite a bit, and her backup singer was a regular chatterbox. And Neko was sassy alright. She told someone to put their phone away just a few lines into her first song without missing a beat. The theater went crazy over that. And she did not one, but TWO encores, which no one was expecting. She gave us some sass for that too (everyone had begun to leave after the first one).
So overall, it was a fantastic concert, but I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to review an album I didn’t realize how much I loved until after that concert: Middle Cyclone. It was always kind of just A-OK on my list, but now I think that it might be my favorites – lyrically at least. Blacklisted is still my favorite soundwise, though without personal bias, I still admit Middle Cyclone is the stronger album.
Let’s start with the album cover:
How badass is this album cover?!? It’s on equal footing with the cover for Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell for me. Seriously badass. It’s been my desktop background for awhile now. I decided yesterday I needed to get it as a poster. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this specific picture, but I found a similar one!
It doesn’t have the text, and it’s only 11×13, but I can’t wait to have it framed and on my wall. These two pictures make me feel like I can do anything. I want them forever.
But enough about these amazing pictures! On to the album! As I mentioned before, the album opens with one of my FAVORITE Neko Case songs, “This Tornado Loves You.” I just love everything about this song. I’ve never experienced a tornado (not counting the Twister ride at Universal Studios Orlando anyway) but the opening guitar riffs sound like the closest interpretation to the spirit and sound of a tornado that I can imagine. Somehow, that guitar sounds like it’s spinning. And then those opening lyrics: “My love I am the speed of sound./I left them motherless, fatherless.” The whole song is just so metaphorical. I could post the entire song’s lyrics, I love them so much, but I’ll spare you. Other standout lyrics include “I carved your name across three counties/And ground it in with bloody hides.” Also “I have waited with a glacier’s patience.” And even “When I’d rake the springtime across your sheets.” The whole song, of course, is just one big metaphor, with Neko describing herself as a tornado wildly chasing after the person she still loves even after they’ve left her. (Neko did play this song in concert, but at a faster tempo than the album version. Which was a bit sad, because it felt like they were rushing through it and I wanted to savor it.) The whole song sounds like it’s being played inside a spinning tornado. It’s just brilliantly crafted, every bit of it.
“The Next Time You Say ‘Forever'” has the complete opposite message. In it, she wants nothing to do with this pathetic person who wants her to stay, well, “forever.” “The next time you say ‘forever,'” she sings “I will punch you in your face.” And in the end: “You never know when I’ll show you the never.” A great, great song. As someone who grew up moving a lot to have it result in some occasional wanderlust in my adulthood, I can feel for her in this song.
Next is the song I’m surprised wasn’t used in the movie Blackfish,considering it’s all about that sort of thing, “People Got a Lotta Nerve.”
I mean, you can’t hit it on the head any harder than
You know they call them “killer” whales?!
But you seemed surprised when it pinned you down
To the bottom of the tank
Where you can’t turn around
It took half your leg and both your lungs.
This song was actually written and released BEFORE the 2010 death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau, which makes it incredibly uncanny going back and listening to it.
Neko admitted she hadn’t played the next track in a long time: “Polar Nettles.” I usually skipped it before if it ever came up on my playlist, but after hearing it in concert I think it’s a song worth appreciating. It’s got this marching, contemplative, solemn sound to it. It’s appropriate considering it seems to be about death. Neko’s voice sounds downright creepy as she chants “Someday soon…Someday soon.”
“Vengeance Is Sleeping,” thematically, reminds me A LOT of Björk’s “Possibly Maybe.” Specifically in that it’s about someone who isn’t quite over an old flame and is wondering where they are and what they’re doing. Neko sings “If you’re not by now dead and buried/You are most certifiably married.” But my favorite part of this song comes later on:
My love has never lived indoors
I’ve had to drag it home by force
Hired hounds at both my wrists
Damp and bruised by stranger’s kisses on my lips.
It’s so visual and metaphorical at the same time. I just love the idea about her love never living indoors. Something about it speaks to me.
Next comes a very hippie-ish anthem, which is a cover, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth.” It’s a very good choice, because the whole album has themes of nature throughout. And she sings it beautifully. Good choice, Neko! Good choice!
After that comes the title track, “Middle Cyclone,” which carries the main theme of the album: reconciling the fact that she needs love rather than continuing to live the way she grew up, with a stronger attachment to nature and animals than people. She shows what a brilliant songwriter she is with lines like “Can’t scrape together quite enough/To ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love.” My absolute favorite part though (and it might stand as one of my favorite lines/lyrics of all time) is this:
I lie across the path waiting
Just for a chance to be
A spider web trapped in your lashes
For that, I would trade you my empire for ashes
If you’ve ever felt that way about someone, then her hushed voice speaks volumes to you. It works as the title track, and being smack dab in the middle of the track list, it works for the entire album.
I love the opening imagery in “Fever”:
In an open field at dusk
To footfalls I awoke
Marching ants across my temple, oh
Their feet had no intention
They followed some magnetic drum
Prisoners of their destination
The wobbly opening notes and the rest of the lyrics that follow make this sound like a song you would hear in a fever dream (or maybe it was inspired by one), so the song was named rather appropriately.
“Magpie to the Morning” may have sneaked it’s way onto my Neko Case favorite songs list without me knowing…She didn’t play it at the concert, sadly, but I’ve still discovered a new found attachment to it. I think it’s the way she sings it combined with the theme of the song. I feel like there might be a little wordplay with the “Morning” in the song…Though it’s spelled one way, it could be heard as “mourning.” Later she sings about how a vulture “…Laughed under his breath/Because you thought that you could outrun sorrow.” It’s a lot about having to be encouraged by nature to dig herself out of the dark pit she’s buried herself in.
“I’m An Animal” goes on with the main theme of the album. When she sings “I love you this hour, this hour today,” I can’t help but think of Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like A Bird.” Now that I think of it, these songs make a great pairing, thematically. I love when, speaking about her fears, Neko sings “But my courage is roaring like the sound of the sun/’Cause it’s vain about its mane and will reveal them to no one.”
“Prison Girls” is an odd song, in that I can’t figure out if Neko is really in prison or is just dreaming about it. It’s ambiguous like that (or maybe it’s just me). But it’s a fantastic song. I love it when she sings “I love your long shadows and your gun powder eyes.” I’m kind of waiting to see if they ever use it in Orange is the New Black, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of song that would show up there, somehow.
“Don’t Forget Me” is another cover song, and another great choice. I guess there’s not much to say about it, but I love the way she sings “I’ll miss you when I’m lonely/I’ll miss the alimony too.” She sings it very bluesy, but very sassy too. Very Neko.
The next track she played in concert, which was a surprise to me, and that was “The Pharaohs”! I just love love loooooove the way she croons “You said I was your blue, blue baby…and you were right.” It sounds so pained, but not in an overly dramatic emo way.
“Red Tide” is the final song on the album. It’s a rather cynical track to end with, but she played it at the concert too and it sounded amazing.
Actually, I lied. The final track is “Marais La Nuit,” which is just a 31-plus minute-long track consisting of the nighttime sounds around a pond on Neko Case’s farm in Vermont. It’s truly an appropriate ending to an album she recorded in a barn on her property (which explains its big, almost echoing sound throughout).
Looking back on my past reviews, I think I might have to change what I’ve said and recommend Middle Cyclone to first-time Neko Case listeners. The whole album is just so well produced and lyrically brilliant. It’s a real treat to listen to, and I mean really listen to, not just treat as background noise (unless we’re talking about “Marais La Nuit”). If you value good songwriters, give Neko Case and Middle Cyclone a go.