Alarm: Neneh Cherry "Blank Project"

by Jon O Brien

Alarm: Neneh Cherry "Blank Project"

About this album

Swedish trailblazer Neneh Cherry virtually revolutionised the late 80s pop scene with a ground-breaking debut, Raw Like Sushi, that still sounds as fresh, daring and vibrant as anything that the likes of M.I.A., Santigold or any one of the genre-hopping female artists inspired by her perfect blend of rebellion and playfulness have managed since. But after putting her solo career into hibernation for nearly two decades, does she still possess the ability to thrill and innovate in equal measure?

The opening track of her long-awaited fourth studio effort, Blank Project, alone proves that the answer is a resounding yes. A sparse creepy affair which reflects on both the fears of being a parent and the devastation of losing one, 'Across The Water' is a hypnotic fusion of loose percussion and Cherry's anguished vocals which instantly confirms that the belated follow-up to 1996's Man isn't going to play it safe.

Furthering the sense of unease, the lead single title track is an intense account of a love-hate relationship set to a suitably claustrophobic backdrop of grinding synth-bass and the kind of ominous rumbling drums last heard on Leftfield's Guinness ad soundtrack. 'Weightless' lurches from scuzzy jazz-rock to pulsing minimal techno to produce the most schizophrenic account of money problems you're ever likely to hear. While finale 'Everything' is an even more deranged whirlwind of avant-garde sounds which allows Cherry to embrace the sassiness of her early work before collapsing in a heap of maniacal laughter and frantic beats.

Of course, with IDM shapeshifter Four Tet and progressive drum duo Rocketnumbernine on production duties, Blank Project was never going to be an easy listen. But there are still flashes of the melodic streak which briefly propelled Cherry to Grammy-troubling stardom a quarter of a century ago. Most notably on the woozy electro of 'Out Of The Black', a passing-the-baton duet with another Swedish chameleon who refused to be pigeonholed as a pop princess, Robyn, and the melancholic 'Spit Three Times', one of several tracks which revisit the brooding trip-hop sound that many forget Cherry helped to pioneer.

Now approaching her 50th birthday, Cherry could perhaps have been forgiven for using her comeback as an opportunity to trade on former glories. But instead, she's delivered a consistently urgent and refreshingly raw record which proves that her best days are far from behind her. Its closing final line, "good things come to those who wait," couldn't be more fitting.

Alongside two tracks from Blank Project, you can also check out several classics from Neneh, her stepfather Don, her half-brother Eagle-Eye and her half-sister Titiyo on our Best Of the Cherry Clan playlist.

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