Album review: Neneh Cherry and the Thing's 'The Cherry Thing'
"I think I'm built to last," sings Neneh Cherry on "Cashback," the opening track on "The Cherry Thing," her cacophonic collaboration that is something of her comeback.
Cherry started her career with the punk-influenced collective Rip Rig + Panic but is best known for her '90s hip-hop career. Her debut CD "Raw Like Sushi" spawned the international hit "Buffalo Stance"; her underrated sophomore CD, "Homebrew," foreshadowed Lauryn Hill's "Miseducation" and is, in many ways, a superior work. "The Cherry Thing" is a seamless fusion of her influences (including her stepfather, the late jazz icon Don Cherry, whose "Golden Heart" is covered here, and whose song "The Thing" gave the trio its name).
With Scandinavian free-jazz trio The Thing (Mats Gustafsson on sax, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums), Cherry weaves together songs from sources as disparate as the Stooges ("Dirt"), Ornette Coleman ("What Reason"), Suicide ("Dream Baby Dream"), and MF Doom ("Accordion"), creating a thrillingly cohesive collage across genre and mood.
On Doom's "Accordion," there's gleeful menace in Cherry's voice as she intones dementedly brilliant lyrics against a cool bass line. Jarring instrumentation is slowly added to the mix, amping up the vibe of unease. It all evokes a yesteryear jazz club where you never knew what might unfold on stage, and the thrill was in the unknowingness.
"Keep those dreams burning," she gently commands in "Dream Baby Dream," and it's a pungent mantra inside a rumbling, moody dreamscape. The line "I am too tough to die," from Martina Topley-Bird's "Too Tough to Die," is belted against insistent pounding drums and discordant horns, with the chaotic music underscoring the lyrics but also capturing the interiority of the song's protagonist. The collection closes with an especially tender, soulful take on Coleman's "What Reason."
"The Cherry Thing" reclaims the unpredictable outlaw energy and impulses of hip-hop, jazz and punk, organically linking them all. It's a link that is embodied in Cherry herself, at a creative peak, here. Built to last indeed.
'Neneh Cherry and the Thing
The Cherry Thing'
Three and a half stars (out of four)
-- Ernest Hardy