Small Town Super Sound – February 24th
Neneh Cherry can sing better than any of us. Still. It might have been many a moon since classics like ‘Buffalo Stance’, ‘7 Seconds’ and ‘Manchild’ were on any sort of airwave, but on this evidence, she’s spent every single minute of it singing. Just not in front of any of us.
That her vocals are a thing of wonder was never in doubt, but on Blank Project – with the help of futuristic Krautrock duo Rocketnumbernine as her backing band and Four Tet on production – she’s crafted a sound that is as ahead of its time as any of her late 90s/early 80s pop classics could ever have claimed to be. It’s a dark, brooding monster of a record that from the alarmingly sparse ‘Across The Water’ at is start to the impassioned thudding of ‘Everything’ at its close, is never short of mesmerising.
The record’s title track encapsulates nearly everything that’s great about it, shining equal limelight on Cherry’s startling, of-another-time but yet of-no-time-at-all vocals, Rocketnumbernine’s unstoppable grooves and Kieran Hebden’s clean as a whistle but nowhere near glossy production. Her voice is a truly versatile instrument unto itself, leaping from sounding like a wounded but defiant bird on ‘Bullshit’ to the semi-sung raps of ‘Cynical’, which are as close as we get to ‘Buffalo Stance’ territory across the whole LP.
Every track has a melody and a rhythm that’s distinct to itself, but that also acts like a building block to a greater whole – one that the rest of the album would fall apart without. Songs like the standout ‘Weightless’ beg for club-friendly arrangements, but what this curious band/producer combo provide it with is something altogether more interesting, situating it in a musical landscape all its own – perhaps in the very wilderness from which Cherry has been surveying popular music the last few years. Even ‘Out Of The Black’, featuring Robyn, is nothing like the kind of song that usually has ‘Featuring Robyn’ written after its title. You’ve heard of a walking blues? Cherry and Robyn here debut their walking RnB, expertly bastardised by Four Tet and Rocketnumbernine.
It feels strange to rave so highly about a record that at times can resemble a funereal dirge, but its moodiness and its meanness are so skilfully executed that it’s difficult to gaze upon it with anything but wonder. And if we have to wait another few decades for a follow up I’m going to start punching strangers in the street.