Neneh Cherry

Broken Politics

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The making of Neneh Cherry's third proper solo album within seven years began with songs demo'ed beside longtime partner Cameron McVey. Kieran Hebden received the recordings, created backing tracks on laptop, recorded Cherry's vocals at Creative Music Studio -- a Woodstock facility that once hosted Cherry's stepfather Don Cherry -- and finalized the material with some adjustments. While Hebden also produced 2014's Blank Project, this one is quite different, with his software synthesizer and sample-based latticeworks the foundation rather than the comparatively raucous interplay of duo Rocketnumbernine. Studio co-founder Karl Berger picks up the lone instrumentalist credit with vibraphone on one track, yet his presence isn't felt any more than that of any phantom harpist or hand percussionist heard elsewhere -- a testament to Hebden's skills. Cherry's songs here are deeply meditative, often implying or directly expressing sorrow regarding planetary afflictions rooted in fear. The tone is set on the opening "Falling Leaves" with "Just because I'm down, don't step all over me," darkening on the dubwise pro-refugee ballad "Kong" (co-produced by Massive Attack's 3D), and alternating between poetic and disquietingly direct on the slyly "Brown Rice"-referencing "Deep Vein Thrombosis" ("It hurts so bad"). Pain and dread can be sensed across both sides of the LP, but Cherry still has her defiant streak, most perceptible on "Shot Gun Shack," where lines such as "Pick up the gun, you know you gonna use it" and "Say my name before you pull it" sound like gamesmanship more than capitulation. Earlier, she affirms her sense of purpose with a quote from the Last Poets' "Blessed Are Those Who Struggle," and on "Natural Skin Deep" -- over a nearly hurtling beat with steel drums, laser zaps, Ornette Coleman's saxophone, and all-important air horn -- reaches a "Buffalo Stance" level of swagger. It's an extra delight and relief to hear Cherry laugh as the gorgeous and resilient "Soldier" concludes the album in undaunted style.

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