Review of Neko Case’s CD "Blacklisted"
I think I’m most intrigued my Neko Case’s penchant for airplanes. The classic idea of planes is as symbols of movement, or freedom (as one company suggests), but Neko’s take on them is the opposite: because there’s no place to escape to, airplanes are constant advertisements for immutability.In a strange compliment to post-September 11th skittishness about air travel, Neko sings about airplanes as metaphors for a false sense of security. Her pictures of them, both in the songs and on the album art, portray them hovering in a state of safe disconnectedness from the ground. It’s sort of like how those snowboarding t-shirts say, “You can’t get hurt in the air.” Forever siding with the love-torn and heart-broken, Neko’s hopes lie in not crash landing, but simply not landing at all. It’s on the ground where people live after all, and therefore where love is and love’s inevitable devastating aftermath.So in the twice sung “Outro with Bees,” Neko plaintively suggests, “It’s better my sweet that we hover like bees/cause there’s no sure footing, no love, I believe.”The pictures of herself capture a similar brand of frozenness: Neko lying on the ground, eyes wide open and glazed over as if she’d been paralyzed in the most beautiful way imaginable. It doesn’t seem as if this woman could summon the energy pulsing in her songs. In a way, these numb and death-ridden photographs are a middle finger to the Nashville-pop establishment.A combination of Patsy Cline-era country and gospel balladry, the universe of “Blacklisted” isn’t a porch on a farm at sunset, but the black hole invisible in the sky above that Neko’s calling out from, perhaps to warn others away. On the surface it’s a bleak and haunting message.But she’s not directing the listener away from love. Staring at the cover art and listening to “Blacklisted” in headphones for the fifth time, I caught a couple things that cause me to believe this album is a valentine she’s sending out to some unknown yet very specific person (Remember Neko, an art school grad, coordinates the design of all of her booklets and co-produces the music. Nothing is accidental).The red pajamas she’s wearing and her coy pose underneath a loaded van going nowhere seem to me like a request for someone to pick her up and drive her away. And the whisper I barely caught before track 13 that says, “Hey, are you not lost?” doesn’t sound like an accusation, but rather a genuine question for the lover who will stick by her side.But she’s not a girl looking for completion of character through romance. Her ballad for our country of glossy magazine and film idolaters, “Pretty Girls” is a heart-wrenchingly sincere plea for self-reliance. Neko’s just a nomad who understands that being alone sucks, no matter what your gender, and her wailing from that dark place makes for undeniably exceptional music.