Cult singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry has returned with her first solo album in 17 years. This comes after a few recent side projects with CirKus and The Thing, as well as the devastating death of her mother, the Swedish artist Moki Cherry.
Blank Project is a result of Cherry’s therapeutic songwriting and collaborations with producers including her husband Cameron McVey (who has worked with acts like Massive Attack), RocketNumberNine and Four Tet.
Opener Across The Water features Cherry’s soulful yet wavering vocals, as well as the unsettling sounds of water dripping into a bucket and quite possibly, the jangling of bones. The title track shuffles uneasily over a fuzzy low-pitched bass and drum arrangement, which is occasionally interrupted by the odd smacking of the tambourine and a cacophony of synths that sound like something taken from Skype. Things get a bit more ambient on Naked, which startles listeners as its pulsating percussion deliberately goes out of time in parts. Spit Three Times may not have a very inviting title, but is the most sensual track as it crawls to listeners like a lover moving on all fours on a bed. It is surprisingly emotional in its emptiness and feverish in its chilliness.
Some tracks sound the complete opposite to their titles. Weightless is mostly heavy with its chugging bass, apart from a few lighter, house-influenced sections. Cynical is groovy, with some of the most danceable choruses of the album. Even Bull—– is subdued in its anger.
Cherry’s collaboration with fellow Swede Robyn on Out Of The Black is a radio-friendly highlight on Blank Project. Again, there’s a fuzzy synth bass but this song is actually uplifting as the lyrics reflect upon a journey out of the darkness.
Dossier may be the most uptempo offering on Blank Project, but this bouncy acoustic drum track is backed with ghostly, high-pitched synths and eccentric spoken-word samples including lines like ‘get your booty on the floor’.
The most unnerving track is easily Everything, which explores Cherry’s phobia of stepping on wet paper with her shoe. Synth chords are discordant, the lyrics cut straight to reality (‘crack-smoking hussy’) and the vibe is suffocating, as parts of the song sound like they were recorded underwater. Cherry unleashes some unhinged ‘la-la-las’ and rambling, which sound even more deranged as they are contrasted against some steady keyboard hits.
It is incredible that Blank Project was mixed and recorded over 5 days, yet is able to convey such an unnerving atmosphere. On the other hand, there is some over-reliance on a buzzing bass and acoustic drum arrangement, meaning that the songs sound the same after a while. However, Cherry’s songwriting can’t be faulted too much as she clearly took the time to flesh out her feelings and thoughts.