BEST OF 2014: 16. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project

Pulsing, charging and bursting out of the speakers, this album’s title track is a a stunningly bare but utterly captivating four minutes of music. It is, perhaps, the perfect encapsulation of the visceral power of ‘Blank Project’. Produced by Kieran Hebden and built around the sizzling drum sounds of RocketNumberNine, Neneh Cherry‘s fourth solo outing is a gloriously odd listen. It somehow manages to be simultaneously understated and intensely claustrophobic. Initial listens prompted a sense of intrigue rather than delight, but over the ten months since this was first released, I have found myself turning to it time and again, whether on blistering summer afternoons or to soundtrack long, grim journeys. Its sharp edges remain intact and its charms only ever seem to grow.

16 Neneh

The obvious way in is the robotic funk of ‘Out Of The Black’, which features guest vocals from Robyn. It struts about as fluidly as anything on this set, and is the closest thing to an out and out pop song here. The vivid but loose drum sounds coupled with occasional electronic bursts conjure a certain sense of malevolence, like some scarce early Seventies jazz record. The album’s stand out track is ‘Weightless’, its percussive intro managing to feel like a rabid creature tugging at its leash, the release delayed until ninety seconds in when the full drums come piling in. Along with an occasional bit of cowbell. Yes, cowbell. Cherry’s compelling vocal ranges across the rhythm freely, with little assistance in driving the melody of the song.

Indeed, ‘Blank Project’ relies heavily on a fairly remarkable talent being placed in the foreground and given room to breathe. Apparently recorded in a frenzied five-day spurt of creativity, the raw immediacy of the these ten songs is what sets it apart from so much of the delicately crafted music released this year. Closer ‘Everything’, clocking in at over seven minutes, features a free-flowing lyric which fluctuates in intensity, tone and meaning. The grief prompted by the death of Cherry’s mother is present in the more focused lyrics elsewhere, but, arguably, it’s not the words that make this one of 2014’s finest. Musically, it is unsettling, uncompromising and unbelievably good.

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