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Neneh Cherry’s fifth solo album Broken Politics could not be more aptly titled. As a new, old-world order attempts to drag itself from under the rock it was banished to, rarely can political systems across the world have seemed so utterly redundant. But for Cherry, the politics here are of the personal variety, rather than those with a big “P.”
This is not to say the state of the world is not addressed on some tracks, but rather that they are filtered through Cherry’s direct experience and leave easy platitudes to others. The great success of this album lies in its ability to weave one of two magical threads throughout, while even managing to weave both across two or three tracks.
In combination with Four Tet (British producer Kieran Hebden), Cherry injects the grooves with a transcendent, meditative quality as a result of her perfectly imperfect voice and been-around-the-world’ attitude. “Deep Vein Thrombosis” is a prime example of this with its almost trance-inducing koto lines. “Slow Release” is another example, starting as it does like Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey’s On The Moon.” Flutes and drums give way to subtle flares of keys and the groove is hypnotic.
The other quality that Cherry brings to many of the songs here is her ability to write and orchestrate moments of beauty. It’s there on album opener “Fallen Leaves” with its delicious harp lines and on the deeply affecting “Synchronised Devotion.” A fragile piece of introspection, it stands in marked contrast to anyone who only knows Cherry for the swaggering, rabble-rousing “Buffalo Stance” from 1988. The vibes and piano concoction penetrate the hardest heart.
Of course the real pay dirt is when the two coincide to glorious, mesmerizing effect. With its heavy dub bass and delicate piano, “Kong” is the most obvious example of this. Allied to a heartbreaking lyric about refugee camps in Calais (“Bite my head off, steal my worth / will always be a little risk worth taking”), it stands out as a stellar moment. The urgency of “Soldier”s groove is combined with an uptempo harp to provide another reminder of the glorious union of groove and beautiful melody.
The best two tracks though couldn’t be further apart in mood. “Shot Gun Shack” is an unsettling, uneasy mid-tempo R&B groove about gun crime (I know, trust me—it works). A sense of foreboding runs through the music, reflecting perfectly the same creeping dread of the subject matter.
At the polar opposite of the spectrum is an absolute monster of a track. “Natural Skin Deep” is a banging beast of steel pans, loping funk groove, space invader effects and car alarms. It even segues halfway through into a free jazz workout like it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. Then the monstrous groove returns bringing chaos with it. And it is amazing.
For all the talk of grooves and politics, what is never in doubt is the intimacy that pervades across the album. Two slight spoken-word interludes give the impression of opening a video diary and eavesdropping, whilst “Faster Than The Truth” sounds like it was recorded in a cupboard in the room next door. Cherry’s voice is a major player in developing this intimacy. Half-whispered, half-sung, many lyrics feel intended for only your ears—a secret loathe to be shared with the world.
But share it I must. It would be wrong not to.
Notable Tracks: “Fallen Leaves” | “Kong” | “Natural Skin Deep” | “Shot Gun Shack”