Four or five years is often thought a reasonably long time between records, but it’s very swift in the case of Neneh Cherry. She’s never rushed (five solo albums in nearly 30 years) but this follows, somewhat swiftly on the heels of the phenomenal return that was The Blank Project. It was her first solo album in over a decade and a half.
And in the time since then, as well as touring, as well as the fire well-lit, there’s the broken systems in the world, the broken politics. Enter Broken Politics the album. As with Rosanne Cash’s recent record Cherry’s bringing her experience and life, her wisdom, to every lyric. But it’s still cloaked, still opaque at times. The statement is in the album’s title. That’s the information. The music informed by that title and the events in and of this world that recommended that very title.
Four-Tet is back in the producer’s chair and there are some guest productions along the way –Massive Attack’s 3D takes Cherry towards the blur of Protection and Mezzanine on the early slinky highlight Kong.
Four-Tet creates compelling, simple, effective backdrops on Deep Vein Thrombosis and in the Steve Gadd drum groove-sample (50 Ways To Leave Your Lover) that drives Faster Than The Truth.
Cherry’s voice is – still – a miracle. There’s gravel and grit, there’s heart and soul, there’s a purity to it all. And an effortlessness – but you believe, at every step, that this is a voice of experience, lyrically and literally. We hear hard-won stories, hard-earned verse.
As with 1996’s Man following Homebrew (and what else to do but compare Cherry records with other Cherry records) Broken Politics builds on Blank Project without remotely resembling it in its finished product. Yes, it’s the same artist, and we know that from the overall sound – and vision – but this is a new set of experiences. That’s how it should be when you’re releasing records at rate that makes The Blue Nile feel they never need speed up.
Marimbas and percussive clicks and shakes are the main musical bed here.
And though at first there’s a deceptiveness to the impact of this record it begs you to replay it. Natural Skin Deep reminds of Cherry’s debut and there are hints of Hello Nasty-era Beasties, Shot Gun Shack could have found a home on Man or even Blank Project. The slow-build behind Black Monday is another Massive Attack-like moment. Cherry brings torch-balladry into the 21st Century in the most compelling, revealing way. With only art. No artifice.
The record is serious – you might almost find it grim at first – but it’s never too po-faced. There’s playfulness in the curl of the rhythms, and in the sly smile you feel you can see (can almost hear) in Cherry’s voice.
But it’s determined, purposeful and intentionally built to reveal its layers with time. You could believe a year was spent on ordering the tracks alone, Slow Release, the penultimate song, feels like both a musical mantra and philosophical statement as career-encapsulation.
And the fraught tension, the delicate knife-edge nerves, that skin-prickling tension so many of us are feeling just walking through each day, just waking in psychological-dread to turn the next page, to click refresh while feeling so far from refreshed…that’s there in the final track, Soldier.
And as the music’s gorgeous inner strength is revealed brick-by-brick we have Neneh reminding us she’s a soldier. We knew this long before she told us. She’s been telling us, showing us, for over 30 years. Taking her time. Making it hers.