Neneh Cherry never played by the rules. “Another symphony in session,” she sings on ‘Black Monday’, and it’s true the undersung icon creates a complex, multi-layered tapestry of sound on her fifth album. There’s no obvious, overarching theme, except for the fact that ‘Broken Politics’ is the work of an artist who long ago earned the right to follow her own muse. So there’s broad political commentary – ‘Kong’ is an aching indictment of the Calais refugee crisis – and personal, intimate moments, such as ‘Cheap Breakfast Special’, a lilting lullaby with the everyday bustle of a café in the background, placing you right in Cherry’s serene world.
Like its minimalist electronic predecessor, 2014’s ‘Blank Project’, this record was produced by Four Tet – aka British producer Kieran Hebden – though there’s less cohesion here between tracks. It’s eclectic, with the sedate, harp-featuring opener ‘Falling Leaves’ a red herring for anyone who might expect the rest of the record to follow suit. ‘Natural Skin Deep’ is a Massive Attack-style banger (the band’s 3D worked with Cherry on ‘Kong’) that combines boisterous big beat rhythms, steel drums and even air horn, before the track segues into free jazz. “My love goes on and on,” she beams, the statement thrilling when paired with those jubilant sounds.
‘Shot Gun Shack’, the album’s most sobering moment, is an R&B slow burn about gun violence; Cherry’s voice carries notes of experience that imbue her state-of-the world dispatches with depth. “Pick up the gun, you know you’re gonna use it,” she sings, “You know that gun is gonna get loaded.” This is the sound of a musician who, nearly 30 years since the release of her most commercially successful track, the epochal ‘Buffalo Stance’ (if they don’t play it at the next party you go to, you’re obliged to make a scene), remains a vital voice.
If there’s a criticism of ‘Broken Politics’, it perhaps that the record doesn’t broadcast this voice often enough. You may long to hear Cherry to take on more thorny topics, for the album to live up to its name. ‘Blank Project’, with its unified sonic theme, was a more distinctive record, less scattershot, though – ironically – the high points of ‘Broken Politics’ (such as ‘Natural Skin Deep’) often outdo those of its predecessor. On ‘Synchronised Devotion’, she delivers spoken-word over skeletal piano: “My name is Neneh. March 10”.” In many ways, this album is a diary entry, a fascinating insight into the inner-workings of a true one-off.