By Justin Cudahy, Columns Editor
[Smalltown Supersound; 2018]
Key Tracks: “Fallen Leaves”, “Faster Than the Truth”, “Natural Skin Deep”
For many, when they hear the words “Buffalo Stance” uttered, they are immediately transported to a time back when MTV was at its height and dance-pop was still on the rise. These terms were synonymous with Neneh Cherry, who slowly faded from the limelight as the ‘80s reached their end and a new wave of musical culture took over. Now, over 30 years later, Cherry is back with a more mature and wiser outlook on her life and the problems that surround us, as evident with her latest album, Broken Politics.
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As the name implies, Broken Politics takes a look at the polarizing issues that plague the U.S. from Cherry’s point of view, like abortion, guns and the ongoing refugee crisis, but with a deeper focus on her observations rather than a list of answers. “Hopefully, the songs don’t come across as pompous or even reaching a place of solution,” she states during an interview with The Muse, “They’re stories to me that are of the climate that is around us.”
The album grounds some solid footing with its opening track, “Fallen Leaves” which shows how the artist has left behind parts of her post-punk and hip-hop Bristol background and instead gone for a more serene and almost meditative vocal style. It is in no way therapeutic for the listener, however. Instead, it’s more of a ballad meant to be inspiring as Cherry empowers herself, which is showcased in the track’s chorus, “Watch me come undone / Look at what you see / Just because I’m down / Don’t step all over me”.
This is the second time in which Cherry has collaborated with English musician and producer Kieran Hebden, AKA Four Tet, whose use of traditional instrumentation and rhythms prove to be fitting with the album’s concept. Tracks are filled with different combinations of piano, harp, vibraphone, kalimba, snare and more. Four Tet teases listeners with some electronic-like background rhythms scattered throughout in songs such as “Faster Than the Truth” and “Black Monday”, but the overall tone remains consistent for the first half.
Fortunately, Cherry never falls too stagnant with the album’s simplistic outlook which slowly begins to evolve into a more fast-paced and even obnoxious kind of sound as listeners reach the halfway point. With that, her vocal delivery changes as well, from long drawn notes and harmonies, to a slam poetry-like inflection in the song “Deep Vein Thrombosis” to an all-out rap in “Natural Skin Deep”. Its instrumentation is switched up as well, with the latter song resorting to spacey synth sounds, a jazzy sax solo and even that generic airhorn sound effect you hear in memes all the time. The song is the complete opposite from the first half of the album, but it works.
As Broken Politics begins to unwind from its sugar rush, Cherry and Hebden gradually go back to their original soundscape and style, but with less success than the first half, resulting in a sugar crash. The album reaches its climax a little too early, resulting in a dragged out and winding conclusion in its final four tracks, one of them being an interlude interwoven somewhere in between. It’s concluding track, “Soldier” is fitting as a closer and neatly ties up everything discussed previously, but its near five-minute runtime overstays its welcome just a little too long with an extended outro that proves to be rather lackluster.
Despite this album being her second project in 22 years, Cherry has proven that she is not even close to hanging up her shoes just yet. Broken Politics feels fresh, feeding listeners important topics to digest without overexerting a feeling of worry or impatience.