By Michael Norman
Is she an American or a Canadian? A country singer or a punk with pop-star pipes? A red-headed, indie-rock sex symbol or the reclusive Marlene Dietrich of the post-punk world café?
It doesn't matter, really. It's better to let Neko Case just be Neko Case -- a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enimga, to borrow a phrase from Winston Chuchill. Mysteriousness is a lost art in the modern popular culture, where the media hunts artists as celebrity prey, feeding them to us until we are gourged and fat and can stomach them no more.
Case has the voice and the looks to be a pop princess. Thankfully, this priestess is aiming for higher ground. Her latest album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, is a modern fable, an epic, 12-song tone poem that looks for beauty and love in an inscrutable, venomous world. You won't find that message on the surface of songs like "John Saw That Number," "Dirty Knife," "Lion's Jaws" and "Maybe Sparrow." But it's there all the same, lurking amid a dark, fairy-tale lanscape populated by murderous wolves, haunted widows and valium-toting brides. Just press play and lose yourself in the music and the moment. Somewhere in the folk-rock-country noir, you'll get a feel for the world, back when it was old and strange, and everything will become clear. Or maybe it won't. But who cares? Just hang on and enjoy the experience.