I went mad for “Buffalo Stance” when it first reached the pinnacle of chart success. I remember attempting to do the shuffle (or was it the running man) to it, and doing a really bad job of trying to up my jazz split game. Looking at her recent pictures the lady has barely changed from that time, yet here we are, 18 years after her last solo studio album, and we all know that in the music industry 18 years is an awfully long time to be away.
She may have been out of the spotlight but having recruited Four Tet, aka Kieran Hebden for beat duty, it’s clear that Ms. Cherry hasn’t been out of touch. Staple genres are meshed, deconstructed, intertwined, deboned and stewed in the juices of others, to the point where you aren’t quite sure where one genre ends and the other begins. Drum and Rock. Hip-Fi. Indie Beat. It’s all there and more; and with Neneh’s multi faceted talents (Songstress, MC, Spoken Word) she is able to make good use of what has been made available.
Blank Project carries an element of pent up frustration throughout, with the change in tone from one song to the next, more due to Neneh reigning herself in, rather than struggling to tap into her emotions. Case in point: The first track, “Across The Water”, sees her in a solemn, almost resignatory frame of mind, backed by percussion that, rather than simply being sparse, seems to want to let you know that it is so. Helped by what I can only describe as a rhythmically assembled ceremonial tribal bone necklace.
From this we arrive at the simmering title track and ode to the emotional contradictions of being a woman in love. “Blank Project” is about as big a departure as you can get from the song preceding it, with its cacophony of live drums and shelf ornament rattling bass line (I almost broke one of mine). The arrangement is superb and the song should have been the albums opener.That shaken, dirty bass line is Blank Projects common thread and it, is also twisted, contorted and maimed to get the desired effect, but is never constant. This, along with Four Tet not letting himself be pigeon holed by a particular genre is probably the albums main draw.
My standout tracks, the uptempo gritty 2-Step jump fest that is “Cynical”, the Robyn (remember her?) assisted, Disco Pop ‘Indielectro’ trip, “Out Of The Black” and “Dossier”, with it’s ‘shake your backside at the cool new bar’ vibe, all highlight that mantra.
That being said, Blank Project is not for everybody and is definitely not an album that is particularly easy to get into. For me the opening song is masking the great music that comes after it, and in a market of instant satisfaction there will be many who will take one listen to it and not give the rest of the album a second thought, (I myself was almost guilty of just that). What helps is Neneh’s 18 years worth of emotion and substance that comes to the fore on most of,, what is on show and although commercially the heights of Buffalo Stance are virtually unattainable, the originality and depth shown from both sides of the vocal booth is to be commended, if not unabashedly lauded.