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Dissected: Neko Case’s Albums from Worst to Best

on November 12, 2015, 2:00pm

06. The Tigers Have Spoken (2004)

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“South Tacoma Way”: On her version of The Shangri-Las’ “The Train from Kansas City”, Case’s narrator tries to lightly let down her lover by telling him she got a letter from an ex in Kansas City and has to take the train there to tell the ex-boyfriend it’s over in person. The wit of the song is emblematic of the clever approach Case often took on her own compositions.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline”: In the songs Case chose to cover for this record, she tells the story of a woman asking her dressmaker to make the sweetest dress imaginable, so she can win back the man who left her (“Soulful Shade of Blue”); the woman who leaves her current lover for her ex back in Kansas City (“The Train from Kansas City”); and Loretta, who hugs sweet and low (“Loretta”). The characters in her original songs on the album include the narrator who pleads with her lover to stay rather than leave for the woman who “spends her daddy’s money and drives her daddy’s car” on “If You Knew”, the lonely tiger trapped in his cage on the title track, and the coyotes that yell to the moon on “Hex”.

“I’m a Man”: As the album is mostly covers-based, Case’s most pointed song here is her cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X”, a fun, up-tempo track that takes the piss out of people who go around slut-shaming. The song focuses on the stigma about divorce, with the narrator telling a woman that “the women all look at you like you’re bad, and the men all hope you are.” Originally written in 1973, the song has become a country staple about divorce and the antiquated notions that surround it. The song has remained continuously relevant, to the point where Miranda Lambert made a statement at the ACMs this past September covering the song as a tribute to Lynn, noting that the song spoke to her experience as a divorced woman in country music.

“Deep Red Bells”: There’s no murder here, but on “Hex”, the “lover’s spell” Case puts on her mark seems particularly harrowing, as she tells him that the night his dying and that his punishment for casting her aside is that her heart beating will be the only sound he will hear ever again.

“Whip the Blankets”: The only live album featured in Case’s upcoming box set reissue, The Tigers Have Spoken features more covers than most of her other releases. The album includes a cover of “Hex”, written by Freakwater singer Catherine Irwin, “Soulful Shade of Blue” by Buffy Ste. Marie, “The Train from Kansas City” by The Shangri-Las”, “Loretta” by The Nervous Eaters, and “Rated X” by Loretta Lynn. Case even concludes the record with her take on traditional folk songs “This Little Light” and “Wayfaring Stranger”. Tigers finds Case indulging more in the alt-country material of her earlier days while also hinting at the more straightforward rock approach she would move toward with her subsequent records.

Her Boyfriends: Tigers features a murderer’s row of people Case has worked with before. Carolyn Mark of The Corn Sisters and Kelly Hogan and Brian Connelly of her normal backing band all make appearances. The Sadies, who helped Case write a few of the original pieces on the album, also serve as the backing band for the live performances that make up the record. Of all her records, Tigers does the best job of capturing both the influences that drove Case’s sound as well as the contemporaries she worked with to help form it. 

David Sackllah