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Blank Project: Neneh Cherry’s latest album is lean and a little mean

Neneh Cherry’s Blank Project should get her back on festival bookers’ radars, which should help with the bottom line she sings about on the album.

3.5 out of 4 stars

Blank Project
Neneh Cherry
Smalltown Supersound

Who's looking good today? Neneh Cherry.

Who's looking good in every way? Neneh Cherry.

Who's that in the Buffalo Stance? No, sucker, not Neneh Cherry. She doesn't live in the past.

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No rookie when it comes to style, the cosmopolitan singer and rap-dabbling bohemian (who had an international dance hit with the super-cool and defiant Buffalo Stance in 1988) is back making the scene with her first solo album in some 18 years. Blank Project is lean and a little mean – a minimal, persuasive and assured outing from a mother, lover, realist and modern poetic soul. One could dance to it. One could party to it (but not too hard). And one could do other things to it, but that is none of my business.

It's adult music – but not for you, soccer mom. It's percussive, tripping, semi-spoken, electronically adventurous, purring, vulnerable, badass and plugged in – more hip than hop, compelling like a storm. The Swedish pop singer Robyn is involved on one track (the danceable, magnetic and low-riding Out of the Black). And dig, it's one of my favourite sublime discs of this short year.

It's probably a mug's game to try to figure out the muse for an album called Blank Project. Indeed, the takeaway quote from a recent Spin magazine feature was Cherry's candid admission, "No matter how much I think I know, I don't know [a thing]."

But, then, that's what this album is about: a state of unsureness, which is addressed on the insistent throb of the title track. "Need to be right, right to be wrong, sometimes a loser, lost down the hall," Cherry half-raps, "I hate you, I hate you, I love you, I love you, I love it all."

Ah, the restless bipolarity of mid-adulthood.

It's hard not to notice one reoccurring theme here: Money (not that Cherry's financial situation is any of our concern) and a middle-ager's place in today's fashion.

On the clacking, bluesy Naked, Cherry despairs. "Strip me naked and put me out to pasture / multitasking, keep your head above the water / smell of any money keeps the wolves from the door, then there's the men who ate my taxes / it's the kick against the pricks now."

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It continues with Weightless, a grimy disco-and-cowbell inferno about bank loans, purse strings and dancing in the wrong shoes. And of course Out of the Black, with "on our toes to the black, from the red we'll be back."

Blank Project won't make Cherry rich, let's be clear about that. But it should put her back in the minds of the festival bookers, and that won't hurt her bottom line.

Closing number Everything skitters and moans; Cherry doesn't recognize her reflection, and is freaked out and a little lost. Hi-hats and snares add to the tension as she tries to figure it out.

She's going to make it, though. A doctor listens to her chest, but needn't bother – "I got the right tools," Cherry declares. She dismisses the victim song as dysfunctional, and something she "deleted" long ago.

So, a little Buffalo Stance to Cherry yet, to no one's surprise.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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