Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Smalltown Supersound
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
Blank Project is almost certainly not the Neneh Cherry comeback record that anyone familiar with her early chart-scaling output – Buffalo Stance and Manchild, for instance – was expecting. Despite intriguing ventures with CirKus in the late noughties and jazz experimentalists The Thing in 2011, the Swedish singer has not recorded in her own right since 1996’s Man. As the title suggests, Blank Project sees Cherry 18 years later, regenerated, rejuvenated and reconfigured, and on a staggering album that sees her reconnecting with her post punk roots and forging a clear path for future progression.
Compared to Neneh Cherry's three proper solo albums, the last of which was released in 1996, Blank Project is from another dimension. It's in line with her post-punk roots in the Slits, Rip Rig & Panic, New Age Steppers, and Float Up CP and, to a lesser extent, her 2000s output with family affair cirKus. Blank Project is also something of a continuation of The Cherry Thing, a 2012 album on which she was backed by the Thing -- a Scandinavian jazz trio inspired by her stepfather Don Cherry.
Review Summary: Blank Project overflows with daring experimentation, but its tremendous appeal also lies in Cherry's intensely personal musings that lend the record its emotional heft.Nanah Cherry's 1990s output was immensely influential as she pioneered the fusion of pop, soul and rap, setting the stage for the likes of Destiny's Child, All Saints and Lauryn Hill. Eighteen long years may have passed since her last solo release, but the Swedish-born singer has never lost track of new trends. Rather than rehashing old ideas, the artist's new album harkens back to last year's The Cherry Thing, a cutting-edge collection of covers that saw her collaborating with Scandinavian jazz trio The Thing.
Who is Neneh Cherry? That's what many younger music fans will be asking, and it's a question to which there is no easy answer. The step-daughter of jazz musician Don Cherry, Neneh was born in Sweden and spent much of her early life in New York, but always seemed very London (where she later lived for 20 years). She was part of the post-punk group Rip Rig + Panic before morphing, in the '80s, into a streetwise antidote to Madonna (her "Buffalo Stance" is one of that era's great pop-dance tracks).
The artistic strength of Neneh Cherry has never been in question over the past 30-plus years. From a member of Rip Rig + Panic to the solo phenomenon of Raw Like Sushi to working with her husband and daughter in CirKus, Cherry has always followed her own path in her style. However, the maturation of her voice and viewpoint, as well as the renewed interest in it, is a welcome development.
The sparseness of 'Across The Water' is a musical vacuum that threatens to crack its container and consume the world that exists just outside of it. A half sung / spoken-word vocal, which sounds as though it was recorded live with all the imperfections and nuances left intact, is matched with contemplative muted percussion. The whole track meanders like someone lost in thought and it becomes clear that there is something missing from proceedings.
The claim may seem absurd considering she hasn’t made a solo album for 16 years, but it’s truly difficult to imagine how the pop landscape of today would look had Neneh Cherry never made music. Twenty-five years ago, the Swedish-born, British-resident singer and rapper spearheaded the fusion of soul, pop and hip-hop, paving the way for the likes of All Saints, Destiny’s Child and Lauryn Hill. She performed the deathless ‘Buffalo Stance’ on Top Of The Pops while visibly pregnant, talked about motherhood and responsibility in songs that were streetwise, sassy and sexy, then when they gave her a Brit Award, she melted it down to make jewellery.
Neneh Cherry's first solo record in 18 years sees her team up with Chingford electronica boys RocketNumberNine under the guiding production hand of Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, and the results are extraordinary. Opening track Across the Water is minimalist trip-hop, a bare drum and shaker backing Cherry's voice as she sings of matters close to home. Things thicken up after that and when the title track opens out from an overdriven synth and tambourine, you cannot help but be carried along.
Produced by Four Tet, performed by Ben and Tom Page (aka Rocketnumbernine), featuring Robyn. That Neneh Cherry doesn’t end up drowning in a sea of big names on returning gambit ‘Blank Project’ is a minor miracle. Seeing past the star cast, this record marks a move back into the spotlight after ten-plus years of silence. Neneh’s past is important, here, but it’s not a vital fixture in a record determined to look ahead.‘Blank Project’ skews soul into a futuristic chasm of industrial noise and convention-dodging electronica.
Twenty-five years into her career, there's still a terrific rawness to genre-exploding Swedish musician Neneh Cherry. Her new album, a collaboration with London duo RocketNumberNine, arose from an unspecified personal tragedy, though she's clearly also still grieving her artist mother, who died in 2009. "Since our mother's gone it always seems to rain," she says on the largely spoken-word album opener, Across The Water.
In the closing moments of her first solo album for 18 years, Neneh Cherry stops singing and starts making a noise. It's a horrible, grating, distressed and distressing noise, even considering the increasingly raw and wilfully off-key vocals that have preceded it: somewhere between a whinny and the bleat of a sheep that's having something unpleasant done to it, the sound bears comparison not with the swaggering rapping of Cherry's 1988 breakthrough hit Buffalo Stance, nor the soft soul stylings of her other big single, Seven Seconds, but with the work of Yoko Ono or cuddly old Diamanda Galas. As said noise resolves itself into a kind of scream choked with laughter, anyone who last encountered Neneh Cherry in the mid-90s, either duetting with Youssou N'Dour or performing the 1995 Comic Relief single Love Can Build a Bridge in the company of Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Eric Clapton, might be forgiven for feeling slightly disconcerted.
The past 10 years of pop music have Neneh Cherry’s fingerprints all over them, from the unruly conglomerations of genres that have come to define much of the Hot 100 to the uncountable number of female singers who’ve borrowed directly or indirectly from the club-diva-meets-art-school-b-girl playbook that made a smash out of her 1988 single “Buffalo Stance”. It’s become painfully obvious that her status as a one-hit wonder has far less to do with her talents than how far she was ahead of her time. Cherry’s early work has aged well.
Not one to be rushed—it's almost a quarter of a century since the release of her debut Raw Like Sushi and 16 years since her last solo release—Blank Project marks the long overdue return of Neneh Cherry. Produced by Four Tet and recorded in just five days, it walks a similar path to her most recent work—2012's critically acclaimed collaborative project The Cherry Thing—but rather than layering her voice over avant-garde jazz, here it's wrapped in a sparse and digitized landscape. .
The Neneh Cherry of “Buffalo Stance” fame only wanted the simple pleasures. She likes her fun, but don’t get it twisted: Cherry wasn’t taking any shit from no man, and although she was looking for a mate, he had to be the right one. She doesn’t need him if he isn’t — the party goes on regardless. It’s been over 20 years since that song hit the Top 10, and Cherry has taken her fair share of shit.
A few months back, I had occasion to sit for a happy hour with a friend whose marriage was breaking up. She was wearing her with-it mask that afternoon as she attempted to tell me the details of what she wasn't yet ready to acknowledge as a catastrophic event in her life. The plot points came out in shards of random exposition, like pointillism, where it only became apparent what she was trying to say when I stepped back a few feet to assess the bigger picture.
Blank Project: On which we welcome Neneh Cherry back with a cup of tea rather than a party. The album is the artist's latest solo project, her first since the import Man was released back in 1996. Sparse, isolated beats dominate the ten-track affair; it shuffles along in parts, but drops enough dimes — "Weightless," "422" and "Out of the Black" (featuring Robyn) — to keep listeners engaged.
"New York City, she speaks to me in tongues," declares Swedish art-pop diva Neneh Cherry on "Across the Water." She gives as good as she gets: The "Buffalo Stance" singer's first solo LP since 1996 refuses to be slotted as rap, rock, jazz, pop, EDM or R&B, while delivering all of the above. The title track is a conflicted love pledge, chanted over gnarly martial techno; "Weightless" is morphing punk-funk with distorto bass; "Out of the Black" is a slithery tag team with fellow Scandinavian freethinker Robyn. Produced with finesse by Four Tet, whose ability to mix live drum grooves and electronic muscle is unrivaled, it's music that beats its own path, brilliantly.
I’m a few years too young to remember Neneh Cherry’s pop-stardom peak, so she didn’t come to my attention until her collaborative record with Mats Gustafsson’s free-jazz trio The Thing in 2012. The Cherry Thing (an album I really loved) caused a minor re-appreciation of Cherry’s oeuvre, particularly her retrospectively pivotal one-hit-wonder Buffalo Stance (1988), a song which struck a masterful balance between eccentricity and pop accessibility. Relistening to it is revelatory: its zany improvised scatting, jumbled accents and impressions, and deceptively clever structure was the result of a real effort to try new things with radio pop – you could call it her Shape of RnB to Come.
Ever since Neneh Cherry struck gold on her debut 1989 solo record, Raw Like Sushi, with politically minded hit “Buffalo Stance,” she has never tried, or cared, about fitting the mold pop stardom demanded of her. Cherry made music when she felt compelled to, examining and expanding on her growing set of influences like trip-hop, spoken word, and avant-garde jazz. After intervening years saw two more challenging solo records and a handful of little-heard collaborations, Cherry re-emerged in 2012 with The Cherry Thing, an electrifying neo-soul album with Swedish jazz trio The Thing that featured intriguingly re-worked covers of tracks by Suicide, MF Doom, and The Stooges.
Firstly; that title. It's not a new conceit: the empty page, the unnamed musical composition, the untouched canvas, or, nowadays I guess, the optimistically blinking cursor - and versions thereof - have long been employed as symbols or perverse "names" for an array of artistic projects; the metaphorical connotations of absence or "blankness" conversely saying something about the artwork so monikered. However, hats off to Neneh Cherry from the get-go with this one, because knowing what to call something you've made is never easy, (I imagine it's harder still when the thing you've made is your first solo record in nearly 18 years), yet Blank Project is a beautifully apposite name for this remarkable album.
It almost sounds like she’s making up for the last eighteen years of silence as the singer lists, across ten tracks, taxes, family, London, New York, sidewalks, “crack smoking hussies”, domestics and countless other subjects. The singer? Swedish-born, London/NY/Stockholm based, staggeringly talented Neneh Cherry, who I didn’t even realise I missed quite so much until I got to the end of her new album, Blank Project, and immediately pressed play to hear its brilliance again. 1996’s Man, best known for the rather fine single “Woman”, was the last time we heard a Cherry solo album and she only surfaced again thanks to 2012’s collaboration with The Thing, That Cherry Thing.
Skrillex, Recess Man, I feel old. Is this what the kids are listening to these days? (I’m 22.) There’s something tremendously uninspiring about so-called “brostep,” even distasteful – its desecration of the U.K. bass cultures to which it owes its existence, maybe, or a lack of subtlety so pronounced it’s almost aggressive. I’ve read eloquent defenses of the big “drop” as the postmodern EDM equivalent of a classic rock guitar solo, which makes sense but doesn’t really redeem decades of bad guitar solos, if you know what I mean.
Neneh Cherry — Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)Cherry’s heyday was a quarter century ago now, when “Buffalo Stance” started strutting up the charts around the world, the sassiest thing going in a time when sassy was the ideal. A Swede who talked like a Londoner and sang like she was from the Bronx, Cherry was well positioned to navigate the cultures that were drifting towards each other. Hip hop and Europop didn’t officially merge until this century, but a jazzish singer from a London post-punk band had the experience to fit the pieces together long before the world caught up.
“Good things comes to those who wait,” Neneh Cherry sings on two tracks of “Blank Project,” due out Tuesday on Smalltown Supersound. Given that her previous solo album is from 1996, the adage carries a weight of intention. Ms. Cherry, who lives in Sweden and will turn 50 next month, has lost none of the borderless flair that made her a standout figure in early hip-hop and postpunk.
"Good things come to those who wait," Neneh Cherry sings over stormy electronics and a skittering rhythm on her first solo album in 16 years. If there's a lingering take-away from "Blank Project," that's it. Cherry, whose breakout hit "Buffalo Stance" was practically inescapable in the late '80s, left music for years before reemerging with "The Cherry Thing" in 2012.
This isn’t an album that invites you in. It just starts, without ceremony, feeling almost like you’ve walked in mid-sentence to Neneh Cherry’s conversational stream of consciousness, which is locked into the barest of drum-tapping in ‘Across the Water’. There’s no introduction, no explanation, even the first phrase she speaks-raps-sings is hard to make out – so from the very beginning you have to adjust and get your bearings.
The eclectic singer’s last solo album was 1996’s Man but she has continued to make music and collaborate with other musicians sporadically throughout the years from Gorillaz to Kleerup to, most recently, fellow Swedes The Thing. (Read about that collaboration here.) Electronica runs through Blank Project and its creation involves several individuals who specialize in the genre: produced by Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, it features collaborations with Robyn and duo RocketNumberNine. The raw, mellow, hip-hop, electronic, jazz infused solo return of Neneh Cherry is an enjoyable ride; some songs are immediately addictive while others slowly become more appealing after several listens and sonic osmosis.