The Neneh Cherry of “Buffalo Stance” fame only wanted the simple pleasures. She likes her fun, but don’t get it twisted: Cherry wasn’t taking any shit from no man, and although she was looking for a mate, he had to be the right one. She doesn’t need him if he isn’t — the party goes on regardless.
It’s been over 20 years since that song hit the Top 10, and Cherry has taken her fair share of shit. Eighties sugar pop has been largely outdated outside of nostalgic purposes, and the Swedish artist has naturally become wiser with time. But even with those factors, Blank Project (her first solo project in almost a decade) still feels like a left-turn.
It isn’t that Cherry has completely changed from her ‘80s self; Blank Project is still spoken from a feminist mindset. She isn’t trying to incite chants with her populist hooks or fist pumps out of excited empowerment. Things aren’t so accessible on Blank Project, an effort that aims to discomfort you through its raw emotions.
Cherry is more interested in making you feel than move, and that motive makes itself obvious within the first minute of opener “Across the Water”, in which her voice willfully rises out of sync with the sparse drumbeat. “We reflect on the quiet times inside our heads/ And give thanks for our children tucked up sweetly in their beds,” she intones, breaking that image after a pause, adding “inside their heads.” The quiet is juxtaposed in the following song, the title track, with RocketNumberNine’s harsh clacks and drones. It’s jarring, but that’s sort of the point. It’s been said that the best art makes the listener feel something, whether negative or positive, and Four Tet’s minimalist production and Cherry’s fragile vocals does that through each track on Blank Project. “Leave me alone but don’t leave me lonely,” she sings on the title track, and you can only oblige the command by listening.
Cherry was able to draw emotion with seemingly every breath in her collaboration with experimental jazz group The Thing on 2012 standout The Cherry Thing. Here, she’s engrossingly cathartic, whether she’s trembling in the aural wonderland of “Naked” or breathily cooing alongside fellow Swede Robyn on “Out of the Black”. Four Tet’s production feels just as human at key moments, like when the reverb effect reveals itself on “422”, or when spacy, but groovy percussion“Dossier” comes to mind.
The ten tracks here can feel a bit weighty when played in succession, especially with “Weightless” and “422” each running about a minute too long. The final three tracks (“Out of the Black”, “Dossier”, and “Everything”) go a long way to ease that issue. On the electro-funk elation of “Everything”, Cherry refrains: “If everything is everything/ Good things come to those who wait.” It’s hard to find a legitimate counterargument.
Essential Tracks: “Dossier”, “Naked”, and “Out of the Black”