A Beginner’s Guide to Neneh Cherry’s Essential Songs

Posted: November 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , | No Comments »

The Slits – In The Beginning There Was Rhythm (1980)

At the age of 15, Neneh Cherry was introduced to seminal feminist Post Punk group The Slits by her stepfather Don Cherry, and joined them for a brief period, providing backing vocals on several tracks, including this one. The Slits were integral to the early days of UK’s Punk scene, but they quickly became musically adventurous beyond that and incredibly funky as well, further aided by producer Dennis Bovell’s dub expertise. Edginess was rarely as charming, but The Slits had loads of attitude to boot. One can assume that Neneh Cherry took her clues from the experience.

Rip, Rig & Panic – Those Eskimo Women Speak Frankly (1981)

The next band Cherry joined was a Bristol collective that included two members of the legendary Pop Group. Their music was a feverish mix of Punk Funk, avantgarde elements and Jazz. As with The Slits, Don Cherry was a collaborator, but his stepdaughter was more to the core, switching to lead vocals and displaying the mixture of charismatic Soul and Rap stylings that would make her famous later on. But before that, Neneh Cherry briefly retired to become a young mother, and the band fell apart. In 1983 the band reformed with Neneh Cherry under the name Float Up CP, and released one album, then fell apart again. But if you find a band in those years with a constant line-up, it might have been dull anyway. Rip Rig & Panic sure were not.

Raw Sex, Pure Energy ‎– Give Sheep A Chance (1982)

After collaborating with On-U Sound’s mighty New Age Steppers, Cherry teamed up with its bass guitarist George Oban and the drummer of 70s Fusion Jazz band Karma, Joe Blocker. They covered Edwin Starr’s Motown standard „Stop The War Now“ in reaction to the Falklands War, and „Give Sheep A Chance“ is its wonderful icy computerized dub version on the flip, sheep noises included. In the years leading up to the next entry, Neneh Cherry also became a pirate radio DJ, danced in a Big Audio Dynamite video, and duetted marvellously on The The’s „Slow Train To Dawn“.

Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance (1988)

Neneh Cherry, the pop star. Seven months pregnant with her second child but rampant with energy, she performed this ever infectious song on Top Of The Pops and stormed the top ten. „Buffalo Stance“ was referencing Malcolm McLaren’s Gals, stylist Ray Petri’s fashionable collective, and was in fact a cover version of a Stock, Aitken & Waterman produced single by her future husband Cameron McVey from two years earlier, where she already rapped about „Looking Good Diving With The Wild Bunch“ on the B-side. And the famed Bristol sound system was indeed involved with the accompanying „Raw Like Sushi“ solo debut album, as were McVey and Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass fame at the controls. In 1988 Hip Hop and House still looked at each other and the UK club scene was vibrant, as documented by magazines like I-D, The Face and Blitz. Neneh Cherry was styled by Judy Blame and photographed by Jena-Baptiste Mondino rather iconically, but underlying were lyrics that dissed gigolos and moneymen and celebrated female self-esteem. So don’t you get fresh with her!

Neneh Cherry – Manchild (1988)

Neneh Cherry telling the boys some more news (albeit with a bit more sympathy), in a fantastic downtempo song co-written by Cameron McVey and Robert Del Naja AKA 3D of The Wild Bunch, and soon-to-be Massive Attack (fellow member of both Mushroom provided a booming remix). In the rather weird video she proudly sports her now born second child Tyson and a further refined fly girl outfit with a pair of cycle shorts that were de rigeur in 1989. Ok, men mostly wore the matching cycle tops. The „cause I believe in miracles, words in heavy doses“ ending still rules supreme.

Neneh Cherry – I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1990)

This a contribution to „Red, Hot & Blue“, an AIDS charity compilation on which several artists covered Cole Porter songs. AIDS was still spreading fast, and given the topic the title is very well picked, with Neneh Cherry rapping an introduction that makes it very clear that it is not only love creeping through the body, but also very lethal disease. The heavy and brooding downbeat groove already foreshadows Massive Attack’s „Blue Lines“ album, to which she would also contribute. The video by Mondino is appropriately dark, without any misplaced pretensions. „Share the love, don’t share the needle“, it ends.

Neneh Cherry – Buddy X (1992)

Lifted from her second album „Homebrew“, Cherry again adresses men that like to play around, wrapping her criticism of male hypocrisy and infidelity with fetching Hip Hop pressure. The song still features prominently in club playlists due to its Class A Masters At Works remixes. At the height of their powers they apply their raw swing to a groove that most successfully merges Hip Hop and House sophistication, without ever distracting from the message. Deadly dubs, too.

Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry – 7 Seconds (1994)

Neneh Cherry collaborates with the famous Senegalese singer for a moving celebration of humanity without prejudice. By then the combination of a downbeat and dramatic strings had almost become stereotypical, but the trilingual „7 Seconds“ still proves why it became so efficient in the first place. First, you need a good song. Second, you need good performers. Third, you will see that the tried and tested arrangement will even up the ante. The stylish monochromatic video was directed by Stéphane Sednaoui, and it works.

Neneh Cherry & The Thing – Dream Baby Dream (2012)

Neneh Cherry works with a Scandinavian Jazz trio that named itself after her stepfather. She was a longtime Scandinavian resident and Jazz has a healthy tradition there, it should not have come as a surprise. But after a long hiatus from recording music, it was. The resulting album consisted mainly of well chosen cover versions that seem to stand for Cherry’s whole life in music. They are interpreted quite freely, and Cherry still delivers. Take her version of Suicide’s No Wave classic „Dream Baby Dream“ for example. In my ears it rather sounds like her very early days than former pop star croons the standards for Christmas.

Neneh Cherry – Everything (2014)

The overdue comeback as solo performer, with an album of material that mourns the death of her mother in 2009. Four Tet is at the helm, and his sparse production focusses on rhythmic textures and subtle electronic arrangements, performed by Rocketnumbernine. The album decidedly neglects pop obligations and Neneh Cherry is evidently very motivated, and even if her songs here are very personal, they sure are engaging as well. The remixers on duty for „Everything“, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer, must have agreed, as they already let the song seep into their trademark Micro House jam setup after only two and a half minutes.

Electronic Beats 11/2015