The past two years in music have been quite exciting and innovative in the underground. Myriads of new acts seem to pop up each day on our social media feeds bringing a new sound and style with them, or revisiting older sounds with a fresh take. A lot of these acts have the right aspirations but lack the recognizable voice needed to stay remembered in the vast history of modern music. Although aiming for a fresh sound, the topics usually stay the same, with politics being the hot topic for everyone and their grandmas these days.
Older acts seem to follow this pattern of commenting on politics, either in order to put a point across or just receive a chunk of relevance, something that seems to be a double-edged sword for the people working in the mainstream. Neneh Cherry is one of the few artists who has evaded that position.
Cherry is mostly known to the world for three hits – “Manchild”, “7 Seconds” (with Youssou N’Dour) and the iconic new jack swing banger “Buffalo Stance”, but her quality as a musician and artist far exceeds just those three songs. Initially appearing with two of the three aforementioned hits on her debut “Raw Like Sushi”, which was critically acclaimed at the time of its arrival. Prior to that, she was known to hang around the influential Bristol Soundsystem, The Wild Bunch. In the early 90’s her contributions to music were two more albums with less of an impact on the world, but she is also noted as an early supporter of her friends from The Wild Bunch, trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack.
In the period between 1996 and 2014, Cherry did not release one single studio album under her own name but had featured on a cornucopia of songs and albums by other artists, most notably appearing on the Gorillaz hit song “Kids With Guns”. With her return to the scene with 2014’s “Blank Project” album, came a wave of critical acclaim and a renewed appreciation for her music, however, she still remains an underrated voice in music, even though she is quite recognizable with her delivery and timbre.
“Broken Politics” is one of these political records mentioned earlier, but coming from a veteran in underground music with a voice aged like fine wine and chill instrumentation that works as a great complement to the harsh themes. Produced by Four Tet, the album features some breezy piano-laden beats, featuring also instruments like the kora and harp. The majority of the instrumentals feature these fantastic basslines that would snuggly fit the album in the trip-hop pantheon, but Cherry manages to stay singular in style on this record.
The early single “Kong” is one of the best songs Neneh Cherry has ever put out. Featuring co-production from Massive Attack’s Robert “3D” Del Naja, this album sounds like a descendant of the music featured on the band’s 1997 magnum opus Mezzanine. The bass and drumbeats are punchy and driving, while the chilling piano melody and Cherry’s voice give a visceral, graceful sound despite the grim topic at hand.“Natural Skin Deep” is a Rn’B tune with a lot of warbly sound samples and a simplistic beat, where she delivers this driven vocal about a very personal topic – vulnerability.
“Shot Gun Shack”, as its name suggests, is a song tackling the ever-present gun violence in the world, and is one of the key tracks on the record. Cherry’s lyricism stays sharp, observative and uncompromising on the opener “Fallen Leaves” with the chorus “Is it fallen leaves/The bird shit on my sleeve/With no luck at all/There’ll be no luck for me”, further adding the line we all should take in “Just because I’m down/Don’t step all over me”. It may sound simple, but it conveys the meaning of people abusing the weak just because they can.
“Synchronised Devotion” is another memorable track, with the line “My name is Neneh/March 10/Water sign”, while also delivering the line “I’m a Pisces hanging on a vine”. There might be a clever use of symbolism here, with the Pisces sign being usually shown as two fish facing each other like yin and yang showing synchronicity (hence the title of the track). While most of the lyrics on this song are not really straight to the point, it seems to refer to Cherry remembering a happier time than the one we all currently seem to find ourselves in, also referencing the Garden of Eden. It is almost as if she is Eve who wants to refer to her former life after being cast out.
“Slow Release” is one of those tracks that will stay stuck in your head, due to the catchy hook and gloomy feel of the song. “Soldier”, the closing track, almost has a Björk-ish feel with its instrumental and sparse beat with Cherry singing “Accept me/Everywhere/Everywhere I go”, telling possibly her lover or any other important person in her life that they should accept her for who she is. “Faster Than the Truth” is also a very invigorating listen with Cherry delivering a half-sung, half-rapped verse in her very soothing raspy voice.
All in all, “Broken Politics” may not be an album for everyone, and it might not break any chart records, but it is truly a moving piece of art not only showing that Neneh Cherry still has what it takes, but also touching on heavy topics in a way that makes us stop and think. The instrumentation created in collaboration with Four Tet is also a highlight, giving the perfect juxtaposition to Cherry’s iconic voice and makes it for an essential 2018 listen.