Neneh Cherry | ARTIST
Blank Project | ALBUM
Smalltown Supersound | LABEL
25 February 2014 | RELEASE DATE
8.6 | 10
A lot can change in 18 years, the amount of time in between Neneh Cherry’s 1996 album Man and her recently released Blank Project. Atlanta was getting ready to host the Summer Olympics, the Spice Girls ruled the world, and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian weren’t even blips on the radar. For an artist, such a sizable gap between projects leaves the distinct possibility that any future work could be viewed simply as a rehashing of old ideas. Fortunately, Neneh Cherry refuses to be chained down by her past work, as Blank Project is just that; a clean slate for Cherry to examine her life in the 21st century, with the gift of being far removed from her career-making work from the 1980s and 90s.
No one could ever successfully argue against Cherry’s creativity. Her collaborative 2012 album with The Thing, simply titled The Cherry Thing, saw her cover a wide array of artists, most surprisingly MF Doom and his masterful “Accordion.” Her eye for unconventional song choices and structures seeps into Blank Project, most notably due to her acquisition of Four Tet to perform production duties. With EDM ruling the airwaves, Cherry takes a personal approach to the genre, employing one of the forefathers of current-day electronica. It’s not a dance record, but there is an underlying groove to these songs that effectively pull the listener in.
Going up against Four Tet’s clinical, precision-based productions, Cherry holds her own, with her vocals consistently being the best part of each song. There is an undeniable confidence and strength to her vocal stylings, while also seemingly a moment’s notice away from cracking. “Across the Water” stuns right out of the gate, with Cherry’s spoken-word intro giving way to a delicately performed chorus. “My fear is for my daughters,” she reveals during the ethereal and organic chorus.
Lyrically, Cherry is in fine form, having many years to nurse and examine her thoughts. She’ll throw in a revelatory couplet out of the blue, as she does on the Robyn-assisted “Out of the Black.” The two Swedish music sensations trade lines like they’re at the schoolyard playground over a deliciously grimy production, when Cherry sings, “I’m Neneh / I’m complete when all my kids are happy / I fear what’s come before will come right back and slap me.” In those two lines, Cherry exposes herself as a complex and dynamic personality. She’s a wife, but she’s her own woman at the same time. Blank Project is the manifestation of that theme, allowing Cherry to tell her story through her own mouth, through her expressions. No one else’s.
After a slightly middling middle section, Blank Project ends on a euphoric note with “Everything.” “Good things come to those who wait, they say,” she sings during the song’s uncannily catchy chorus. It’s a motto she has certainly lived by, but she certainly sounds unsettled delivering the line. Because who knows; better things might come to those who don’t. In a lot of ways, “Everything” is the sound of the party just getting started. Neneh Cherry has caught her second wind. From the sound of things, there is a lot to look forward to in Act II.