Listen: Neneh Cherry’s Hardly Blank Project
Unlike those who drunkenly hand me their iPhones when I’m DJ’ing and assure me, “It’s on here,” I don’t want to hear the same music out that I enjoyed while picking out that night’s t-shirt. At home, I need a different beat.
Lately, I cannot stop playing the sinewy grooves on Neneh Cherry’s new album, Blank Project. They often growl with a distorted thump while she sings so frankly about her life that they’ll stop you in your tracks. The album’s distinctiveness comes from production by Kieran Hebden (known to electronic music fans as Four Tet) who keeps the music banged out live by electro-punk duo RocketNumberNine at its elemental best and records Neneh’s voice as if she’s sitting next to you. It’s raw and assured, matched by lyrics that brandish fierce vulnerability captured as if through poetic stream-of-consciousness.
Neneh’s still the “Buffalo Stance” phenom we met in 1988 but the 18-year break since her last solo album has given her gravitas. She seems to address that gap on “Cynical.” Its jagged, chugging rhythm section provides the aural equivalent of a Hula-Hoop that Neneh swoops around her hips. She chastises a stifled artist (her former self?) when rapping across the bridge and assures us in the chorus: “Don’t think I’m so cynical now / I’ve found my sound.”
Over the years, so many have found Neneh’s signature sound inspirational, including Robyn who duets here on “Out of the Black.” Nonchalantly, they trade lines about what grounds their work atop a brawny backbeat. Creeping underneath, as Neneh sings, remains a fear that “I feel what’s gone before / Will come right back and slap me.” That moody energy fuels its stellar remix by Joe Goddard (of Hot Chip and The 2 Bears) who keeps the drama percussive. My t-shirt looks great.