Neko Case's rich, gorgeous voice and her love of sweet '60s pop arrangements have concealed lots of sharp commentary over the years. But she has taken it to a whole new level on "The Worse Things Get..." (Anti), using the prettiest songs to take her strongest stands.

The irresistibly catchy single "Man" is, on the surface, a "Nuggets"-styled slice of power pop, but it's also Case's take on gender roles, singing sweetly, "I'm a man, you'll have to deal with me." It pairs well with "I'm From Nowhere," an anthem for touring artists, but Case's songwriting is clever throughout. "The Worse Things Get..." couldn't get much better.

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NEKO CASE

"The Worse Things Get . . ."

GRADE A

BOTTOM LINE Tough and pretty, in equal measure