Neneh Cherry became a pop star in Europe with
Seven Seconds (1994), a duet with
African sensation Youssou N'Dour. Consequently,
Man (Virgin, 1996) is the album of a
pop-soul singer in the tradition of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey.
And, as customary with this kind of pop stars, the best tracks are covers.
The rest are slow, atmospheric ballads, that never fail winning the wealthiest
audience, as any second-rate Las Vegas chanteuse well knows.
Back in Sweden, Cherry collaborated with the Thing
i.e. the free-jazz trio of
Mats Gustafsson (sax), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (double bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), for
The Cherry Thing (2012), her first album in 16 years.
Helped by a terrific and eclectic choice of covers, that include
Suicide's Dream Baby Dream,
Martina Topley-Bird's Too Tough to Die
(of Tricky fame),
Ornette Coleman's What a Reason,
Don Cherry's Golden Heart
and the Stooges' Dirt,
she can display her vocal skills like rarely before.
Blank Project (2014) would be her first "solo" album in 18 years,
except that it is not clear what Neneh Cherry actually did on it, other than
singing: produced by Keiren Hebden of Four Tet, arranged by
synth-and-drums duo RocketNumberNine (brothers Ben and Tom Page),
and cowritten with her husband, producer Cameron McVey.
The overall mood is sedated, with Spit Three Times sounding almost
lively by comparison. The
stark electronic glitch-jazz-pop 422 is emblematic of how cold and
distant the atmosphere is, for the most part.
Out of the Black is a childish duet with
Robyn that feels completely out of context.
Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound, 2018),
again produced by Four Tet, continues to exhibit her chosen persona of
sophisticated intellectual through carefully architected low-energy songs.
Hebden crafts the claustrophobic sound of
Natural Skin Deep with a squealing synth and steel drums.
A hammered dulcimer fuels the syncopated dance of Fallen Leaves,
and flutes hover around Slow Release like flies.
The hip-hop shuffly Shot Gun Shack (also one of the most elegant melodies) is embellished by a break of watery percussion.
The suspense of Black Monday is sculpted by a combination of xylophone, strings and triangle.
These delicate sonic touches keep the album alive, but there's little emotion
to be found. On the other hand,
a sense of intimacy pervades the feeble silky Kong (given a dub make-up by Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack) and the delicate
Synchronised Devotion (which is also a duet between piano and
Karl Berger's vibraphone).
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