More than just a welcome return – it’s an essential album.
John Doran 2012
It would be wrong to suggest that Neneh Cherry has been a recluse for the last 16 years. Since her last solo album, 1996’s Man, she has performed with cirKus and contributed honeyed vocals to tracks by Gorillaz, Timo Maas and Kleerup. However, this album feels like enough of a return of a much-missed prodigal talent to warrant the slaughter of a fatted calf.
On paper, a collaboration between Cherry and Swedish/Norwegian free improv trio The Thing seems like an obvious one. Her father, avant-garde trumpet player Don Cherry, was the primary inspiration for the formation The Thing, the trio taking its name from one of Cherry senior’s compositions and originally playing nothing but his songs. But listeners could be forgiven for worrying how these disparate sonic elements would fit together in practice.
Well, worry no more, as The Cherry Thing is certainly one of the most enjoyable and original albums of the year – even if it contains mainly covers. This is the first time The Thing have worked with a vocalist and it’s enjoyable to hear them battling against their natural inclination to blast through the songs with full ferocity.
Cherry mainly abandons her pop/soul style to indulge in glorious improvisation. Most of these songs were recorded live, making the most of Mats Gustafsson’s muscular and wild sax playing, and nowhere is this more apparent than on a cover of rapper MF DOOM’s Accordion. Here, Cherry yells, wheedles, sings, whispers and threatens the words into existence.
Other highlights include a respectful cover of Don Cherry’s Golden Heart and a punchy, raucous run through The Stooges’ Dirt. But the real revelation is the version of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream. Some decades after the seedy electronic punk outfit crawled out of the gutters of New York, they are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. But no previous cover comes close to this version, capturing perfectly the medicated melancholy and heart-broken isolation of life and love in a big city.
The Cherry Thing is more than just a welcome return – it’s an essential album.