Album of the week: Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics

In a world increasingly dominated by politics, Neneh Cherry has decided to negate the current angry rhetoric, retreating from the choir of the  disenfranchised, the forgotten and the partisan, in an introspective album that approaches the eternal “broken politics” of our society in a poetic way. As Joe Muggs explained in his review of the album for Bandcamp, “Neneh Cherry’s very presence is a political act” and since 1989’s debut album “Raw Like Sushi” she’s been making formidable political statements through her music.

Falling in with a punk crowd when she first moved to the UK from Sweden, Cherry found inspiration form the likes of Viv Albertine and Ari Up (she would later perform with the slits too) and channeled the raw energy of punk into a popular format assisted by the future trip-hop beats of Cameron McVey, who would later go on to create Massive Attack and take Cherry’s hand in marriage.

Ever since Raw Sushi, Neneh Cherry’s dusty beats and singular voice has left reserved, but dominant imprints on the musical landscape. “Homebrew” and “Man” followed in the wake of “Raw like Sushi” before a long hiatus after  the critical success of Man. The opening track “Woman” was her answer to James Brown’s  “A Man’s World” and set a striking tone in 1996 in the era of UK Girl Power groups like the Spice Girls. (Incidentally “Woman” was released the very same month as Wannabe.) Alongside the pensive “7 seconds” with Youssou n Dour released, it made the name Neneh Cherry a household name in the late nineties.

After” Man”, Cherry receded from the limelight, working as a broadcaster and occasionally as a DJ, and performing and recording  with other musical projects throughout the years. In 2014 she returned in her eponymous role with “Blank Project”, an album she wrote with McVey and which was produced by McvVey’s 21st century counterpart Kieren Hebden, aka Four Tet.

When it was time to follow it up, Cherry turned again to Four Tet in the producer’s chair and “Broken Politics” cements a new era in  Cherry’s enigmatic recording career. It seems that their relationship in the studio matured with the nimblest touches from keys and strings padding out Cherry’s word association lyrics. Like piecing together extracts from her personal diary, Cherry  compounds all the world’s problems in a mournful soliloquy.

“Broken Politics'” lyrics touches on some very contemporary political issues from African migrants drowning at sea, to the US gun laws and feminism, pieced together like a collage from disparate outtakes in a way that echoes these prevalent issues.  It’s nothing new to a musical activist like Cherry, who has been confronting some of the very same issues in her music since the 1980’s, but on this album she gets more intimate and personal than ever. The solemn minimalist arrangements compared to “Blank Project”, gives Cherry’s vocals the space to breathe and linger with the listener.

The way Cherry’s voice and the lyrics form an intricate symbiotic relationship with the music that contrasts and emphasises with the content, is the best it’s ever been. Although her songwriting style might not be as literal as it was on “Buffalo Stance” or “Woman”, the contemplative way she strings her thoughts together as lyrics on “Broken Politics” strikes a very particular nerve that feels like the artist is bearing her most personal thoughts on these matters.