Blacklisted is a dark album. It’s was a new direction Case is heading into, and she knew it. The loneliness of this new position is evident. There isn’t much musical idolatry here, though she keeps one eye fixed on the past. Her stories chronicle things witnesses and remembered, observed tidbits pulled together to form the songs.
Neko Case has changed quite a bit since Furnace Room Lullaby. Her songwriting is that much more isolated. Her sense of humor scarcely surfaces. A weariness seems to have taken hold long before the songs took shape. Now a passion for something timeless is her calling card.
The songs are a mixture of jagged lyrics and smooth sounds, with lyrics so ragged and blunt that listeners come away bruised. Case has moved into somewhat more traditional country arrangements performed with small, eclectic combos. Her lyrics, however, stand opposed to traditional subjects. Blacklisted eschews “heartbroken woman” themes. Her best outings, “Wish I Was the Moon” and “Ghost Writing” among them, are deeply personal. Yet even at her most confessional, her songs remain framed in the Americana she adores. This isn’t a new way to write music, but it’s a fresh approach for Neko. While still one to romanticize the ways of lonely scoundrels, she employs a different kind of drama than in the past. Of course, honesty isn’t always the best policy. The truth can border the mundane. So there’s a danger built into her craft. It would be nice to say she has the situation under control at all times. That isn’t the case. But it’s better to have Neko overexposed on record than obscured.
On Blacklisted, Neko’s delivery doesn’t have much immediacy. Still, she is reaching. But for what? Unfortunately this was the first step towards capitulation to the mundane and banal aspects of indie rock that would garner her more commercial success over the next 5-10 years. This one is medicore at best, and pales in comparison to Furnace Room Lullaby.