Neneh Cherry – ‘The Versions’ review: next-gen tributes befitting an NME Icon Award winner

From 'Buffalo Stance' to 'Manchild', the star sees fellow pop legends such as Robyn honour her incredible legacy and longevity. But where's Mabel?

When Neneh Cherry collected her Icon Award at this the Bandlab NME Awards 2022, she thanked not only the “amazing visionaries” she came up with, but also the “the new visionaries that are giving me life”. New collection ‘The Versions’ seems designed to deepen her connection with these new visionaries by recruiting 11 of them, all female, to put their own stamp on some classic Neneh-bangers. Cherry’s own vocals only appear on one track – US producer Honey Dijon’s epic house remix of ‘Buddy X’ – but her unique artistic identity, equal parts tough and tender, shines through at all times.

Honey Dijon’s remix feels like an outlier not just because it was originally released in 2020 – everything else here is brand spanking new – but because it ups the tempo of Cherry’s original recording. Most of the artists other take a more subdued approach to covering tracks from Cherry’s landmark 1989 debut ‘Raw Like Sushi’, underrated 1992 follow-up ‘Homebrew’ and more reflective 1996 album ‘Man’. Robyn and Swedish-American singer Mapei team up for a vibey, Dev Hynes-produced cover of ‘Buffalo Stance’ that captures the spunky spirit of Cherry’s thrilling original, especially when Mapei ad libs: “Yo – he’s a fuckboy!” Similarly, Swedish star Seinabo Sey’s slow, soulful reimagining of ‘Kisses On The Wind’ really brings out the empathy in Cherry’s lyrics about a young girl confronted with the male gaze before she’s ready.

Another ‘Raw Like Sushi’ smash, ‘Manchild’, gets a heartfelt but unadventurous cover from Sia and a more daring reimagining from LA-based art-popper Kelsey Lu, whose mournful version really shines a spotlight on Cherry’s strikingly prescient lyrics about male fragility. Equally effective is Anohni‘s late-night remake of ‘Woman’ – Cherry’s torch song about feminine power in a patriarchal world – and Chicago singer and poet Jamila Woods’ glistening neo-soul take on ‘Kootchi’. Perhaps the most radical remake comes from violinist and vocalist Sudan Archives, whose violin-led ‘Heart’ is spare and powerful, though rising star Greentea Peng‘s skittering, glitchy ‘Buddy X’ comes close.

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Cherry’s daughter Tyson delivers a lovely jazzy version of ‘Sassy’, but the icon’s pop star offspring, Mabel, is a little conspicuous by her absence. Maybe they’re saving a collaboration for a future festival set? Either way, it hardly spoils a consistently interesting set that reminds you that Neneh Cherry didn’t just come up with visionaries like The Slits and Massive Attack, but truly became one in her own right.

Details

Release date: June 10

Record label: EMI

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