I reviewed Neneh Cherry’s new solo record, Blank Project, for PopMatters. It’s a special album, and definitely will be high on the list of my favorites come the end of the year.
Blank Project, Cherry’s first solo album in nearly 18 years, simultaneously sounds like both the culmination of Cherry’s work to this point as well as a purposefully low-key, low pressure, recording. The speed of recording and mixing – a mere five days – certainly played a part. Her vocals are imperfect yet all the better for it; the rushed moments and the occasional cracks that begin to appear as she reaches for notes, add to the intimacy and vulnerability on display. As The Cherry Thing previously showed, Neneh Cherry has matured into a vocal stylist of some note. She is able to slip off a beat, to emphasize not just the lyric itself but the sound of a phrase, to roll and shape a melody with a nimble tongue. While it may sound easy to sing around a beat, to do so in a way that strengthens rather than weakens a song is a rare art. Cherry does so in a style that seems natural and necessary, a way best exemplified by Nina Simone and Willie Nelson. Like those artists, she bends the tune to her own rhythm and brings a feeling of rightness when doing so.