Neneh Cherry - Blank Project
The genre-straddling singer's latest channels beat poetry, avant-electronica and free jazz via melodic pop
What's she like anyway? She's like no one else, is Neneh Cherry. She has sung and danced and stamped and rapped across post-punk, hip hop, pop and electronica since the early 80s. And although this minimalist, throbbing tour-de-force marks her first solo album in almost two decades, Cherry has never been far from our thoughts or turntables, thanks to several choice collaborations, including 2012's alliance with Swedish jazz-noise rabble The Thing.
Every Neneh Cherry record breaks new ground. Her 1989 debut, Raw Like Sushi, ushered hip hop into the charts, and 1996's Man introduced the Senegalese language Wolof into the mainstream thanks to '7 Seconds', her duet with Youssou N'Dour. And so it is with Blank Project, in cahoots with producer Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, and London brother-duo Rocketnumbernine, which channels beat poetry, avant-electronica and free jazz via melodic pop (and vice versa), and which variously utilises space as an instrument, a refuge, a weapon.
'Naked' is a case in point: it is stripped bare from its title onwards, which spotlights Cherry's warm voice and incisive words, and the cardinal beats between them. 'Cynical' is similarly striking: a clanking offbeat industrial groove which gives way to a dystopian-pop chorus. And if 'Spit Three Times' lays bare the raw grief and disarray that spawned this album, following the death of Cherry's mother, then 'Weightless' offers a sense of salvation – or helpless liberation, at least. That's not to mention the tooled-up melancholy of 'Out of the Black', which partners Cherry with fellow Swedish singer Robyn and renders our hearts fit to bursting.
Cherry's albums also serve as a motley pop continuum. Raw Like Sushi's still-glorious 'Buffalo Stance' echoed her post-punk revolutionaries Rip Rig and Panic, thanks to the brassy, spoken-word intro to 'Keep The Sharks from Your Heart' (from 1983's Attitude), and similarly, the languorous drawl of Blank Project's opener, 'Across The Water', evokes 'Manchild' from her debut LP. Sometimes all we need is the air that we breathe, and her words in heavy doses.