The return of Neneh Cherry's brilliance
It's great when you are waiting a while for a new album from someone you admire: their past work has meant a lot to you and you're hoping for a return to the magic moments that hooked you in, not so much a repeat (of the sound) but a rekindling of that feel that attracted you to the music.
This year has already given me a great new Neil Finn album - his first solo album in 13 years, his best work in a long time. That was a nice surprise. Frankly, it could have gone either way. I've also really fallen for the new Suzanne Vega album, her first of new material in seven years.
These were nice surprises, sure. But it's another thing altogether when you weren't anticipating the album. That's a whole other level of excitement - to be given a new release from an artist you hadn't heard from in a while and for it to simply arrive. No fanfare, no hype, no chance for anticipation and build-up. The album arrives.
And then, even better, wham! It's brilliant!
Well that's happened this year for me with the brand new album by Neneh Cherry.
I've long been a fan - back when Raw Like Sushi arrived I was being newly turned on to Beastie Boys and Salt'n'Pepa, De La Soul, Public Enemy and I was hooked - already - on things like Prince and Michael Jackson. Neneh Cherry's music was powerful and I couldn't ever see it as just rap music. At that time I didn't know that I'd already heard Cherry singing as part of Rip Rig + Panic.
When that band appeared on The Young Ones TV show it was one of the most transfixing moments of my life. I was too young to be watching The Young Ones - I laughed in the places where the audience applause told me I should. I got some of the jokes. I didn't understand it fully. And the music segments were always a big part of the appeal of sneaking a watch of this show. The overall experience of watching The Young Ones, and then re-watching it over and over was a formative influence. To this day I can still quote entire episodes. And it was my introduction to a lot of great music.
That clip of Rip Rig + Panic scared me. I was amazed; I hadn't heard anything like it. I was about nine years old. It was so cool. I had to hear more.
It wasn't until well after Raw Like Sushi, until after Cherry's second solo album, Homebrew, that I made the connection between her and Rip Rig. By this point I had been turned on to the amazing music her father made, first via the Lou Reed boxset, Between Thought And Expression (there's a version of Heroin on that set that features Don Cherry's pocket trumpet).
I then had another amazing musical moment - hearing Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. Don Cherry became a new name to research, a new sound to get hooked on. This took me back to Neneh Cherry's work too. I arrived (back) in time for Man - and that extraordinary song, 7 Seconds. Such a great piece of music. That chorus is its own dream, the melodic hook can sit with you for days, it wafts in and out. I almost never need to hear that song again because I can conjure it instantly.
By this time I knew that Neneh Cherry wasn't playing the conventional pop-star game. She hadn't let me down, ever. Her music was great. All of it. I loved the three albums she had released. I loved all of the Rip Rig + Panic music I had found.
When I started discovering musicians that really felt like they were doing something different - like Tricky - and when I heard certain female rappers, I always made the link back to Neneh Cherry.
She has just released an extraordinary new album - I reckon it's a masterpiece. And though it's her first solo album in 18 years she hasn't exactly ever disappeared. There was CirKus and more recently she released an album with The Thing. That's worth your time if you are one of the ones who forgot about Cherry after Man, heck, even if you haven't listened to her since Sushi. But, Blank Project is absolutely worth your time.
It's one of those special records - it feels like she's made a new kind of music; not just a new batch of songs. The record is produced by Keiran Hebden. You know him as Four-Tet. And among all of the great work he's created his most recent album was a stunner. So he's clearly on a roll. The band for this new album is synth/drum duo, RocketNumberNine. They sound incredible - but it's Cherry's record. Her voice is stunning. She sings. She soars. She has a new version of softly-spoken rap too. This is heart and soul music. And it's both unlike anything she's ever done and so clearly informed by everything she's done, by so many of the experiences in her life.
Of course now that the record is out there's a lot of hype and talk - and I'm just joining in on that. Sure. But I'm telling you this because I reckon, already, I've heard one of the best albums of the year. And because it's now the next album in line from an artist who hasn't really ever put a foot wrong in terms of recorded output.
Here's a great interview with Neneh Cherry, it provides some of the back-story for the record and context around her 'break' from the music industry.
And here's my review of the album. One of the most amazing things I've heard in a long, long time.
So, whether you've always been a Neneh Cherry fan or even if you've never ever listened to her before I would recommend this album. I'm sure it'll be one of my absolute favourites of the year. I feel compelled to play this over and over, to fall right into it. It's hypnotic, intoxicating, it's sopowerful, so beautiful. It has a shine to it - in and around the murk and husk of the production - that you just don't hear every day, or even every month. It's truly a stunner. An extraordinary work, a powerful reminder of a singular talent.
You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts