For an artist whose heyday was in the late 1980s, Neneh Cherry has made quite a comeback with her newest album, Blank Project. One would think that being out of the alternative/electronic/punk music scene for such a long time would put a damper on the brash effectiveness of Cherrys earlier work, but in her latest project she returns with an assertiveness that not only rivals the initial shock value of her 1989 debut, Raw Like Sushi, but also places her on the forefront of female-driven punk music.
Blank Project possesses a sparseness that comes as a welcome relief in a musical climate that, recently, has often been crushed with the burden of maximalism. The minimalist nature of Cherrys instrumentation and production allows her words to have true significance. Cherry not only decorates the songs with pretty melodies, but she also uses her voice to convey emotionally striking messages of loss and what it means to be a free-thinking woman in the modern age. Lyrics like, Take our lambs off to the slaughter / take their lives so perfectly / like your bricks are filled with mortar / cast your wisdom to the brede from the opening song Across the Water depict Cherrys focus on the relationship between parent and child, possibly caused by the recent death of her mother.
On other songs, Cherrys fearlessness serves as an inspiring cry to all those seemingly washed-up punks who, now entering middle age, continue to find themselves looking back nostalgically at the late 80s. With lyrics such as I could run fast / maybe I could catch God / run a little further, life can run me over from Naked, Cherry encourages her listeners to chase whatever they are searching for without any reservations. Indeed, Cherry wants her fans to disregard their age the songstress herself turns 50 today and to express themselves freely in the face of fear and prejudice, just as she does.
The freedom of expression that this album promotes is largely due to its distinctive production and instrumentation. Produced by Kieran Hebden (also known as Four Tet), Blank Project is electronic music stripped down to its most basic parts, and with all the instrumentation handled by RocketNumberNine a duo known for its organic playing style the album feels very natural and alive.
In a Jan. 10 interview with Pitchfork Magazine, Cherry revealed that the albums 10 tracks were recorded in just five days and that the recording process was defined by rawness and capturing stuff in the moment. One can feel that attitude in each song. No single part of any track seems too artificially processed; no verse or chorus sounds exactly like another. None of the beats are looped, and each part is played live by RocketNumberNine and then stripped down to its most essential ingredients by Hebden. In Across the Water, Cherrys voice is accompanied only by a simple drumbeat: the song has no other melodic quality besides her own voice. On more complicated songs such as Naked or Dossier, RocketNumberNines synths complement Cherrys voice to create beautiful sonic landscapes, without being too over-the-top or pretentious. RocketNumberNine and Hebden use dynamics with gratifying results; each swell and recession adds to the overall tension that carries the record forward, giving it a sense of belonging and purpose.
Blank Project will not disappoint those who remember Neneh Cherry as an inspiring rebel. On her latest endeavor, she retains the fierceness of her youth and pushes it to new heights. And if Blank Project is the first time youve heard of Cherry, prepare yourself for an engrossing emotional journey spurred on by an overarching message of liberation and independence. Cherrys diverse brand of electronic punk will appeal to all different kinds of listeners and will leave an impact on the heart and mind of everyone who comes across it.