ALBUM RELEASE: Neneh Cherry – ‘Broken Politics’
WORDS BY CRAIG HOPKINSON
Neneh Cherry, the ‘7 Seconds’ superstar, is back once again with ‘Broken Politics’, the new jazz/pop-infused album to come from the world famous, Swedish born singer. Before the album begins, it’s hard not to notice how eye-catching and transfixing the artwork is, it really portrays Neneh Cherry’s artistry. From the off, it’s easy to determine that ‘Broken Politics’ is going to be a very expressive experience and so I don the hat of creative thought once more, strap myself in for an abstract journey, and await the luscious tones of the lovely Neneh, mixed with some very funky Jazz.
The first track ‘Fallen Leaves’ is actually quite tame on the Jazz-meter. A simple, drill styled, up-tempo drum beat sits quietly below a simple piano melody. The focus is clearly on Neneh’s voice and the lyrical content and in fact, there aren’t very many layers of vocals recorded at all. It’s extremely minimalist, simple and very sweet. Like the art is speaking for itself and was given room to breathe. Neneh Cherry also has such a lovely voice and so the song holds together perfectly. A great introduction to the album.
Skipping forward a few tracks to the seventh song of the album, ‘Natural Skin Deep’, and Neneh has cranked it way up all the way to Miles Davis on the Jazz dial. This is such a brilliantly hectic song and a great aperitif for any listeners that are a tad unfamiliar with the weird and wonderful ways of modern Jazz, and other Jazz influenced genres. ‘Natural Skin Deep’ sounds like New York. With the sound of NYPD sirens whizzing by, a lull of voices at a breakfast diner, I can almost smell the coffee. A relatively standard hip-hop beat brings in Neneh’s funky style of double time singing, a kind of singing and rapping with added melody. Then, at around halfway through the song, Neneh switches to a full Jazz ensemble and completely mixes up the whole track. Every digital layer is dropped, the drums fade out abruptly and from there on in the song sounds like it was jammed out in Greenwich Village in 1972, in some smokey ‘blues party’. Getting lost while flowing away to these subtle melodies, horns and string sections became suddenly all too easy. It was such a refreshing change in the song and transported me to this groovy world of Soul and Jazz that Neneh obviously inhabits.
Produced by Neneh Cherry and English musician, Four Tet, ‘Broken Politics’ is said to be a “quieter and more reflective” album than its predecessors. I’m not sure that I completely agree with “quieter”. It’s quite a stanch Jazz album for any uninitiated Jazz newbies out there. It is, however, very reflective. The lyrical content of the whole album brings a plethora of political undertones, social commentaries, and satires and there is definitely a tonne of self-reflection. With song lyrics inspired by the passing of Neneh Cherry’s biological father, musician Ahmadu Jah, the album is honest and emotional. Interestingly, the Woodstock Studio in New York, where ‘Broken Politics’ was recorded, was the same studio which Neneh Cherry’s stepfather, American Jazz musician Don Cherry, had previously used to record his own work in the 1970s. In fact, Neneh Cherry uses samples from the recordings of Ornette Coleman, Pulitzer Prize-winning Jazz saxophonist, which her stepfather had recorded.
‘Broken Politics’ has a real sense of homage to it. Not only to Jazz but to the musical influencers and parental figures in Neneh Cherry’s life that gave her music. The political commentary amidst a great use of rhyme scheme and a very cute, toned singing style is also really entertaining to listen to. The production, on the whole, does seem sparse but perhaps the intention was to focus on the lyrical content and instrumentation, especially with the Jazz sections. It also lacked a touch of mastering that I would have expected a globally recognized singer would pertain to. However, I actually quite like that it sounds raw and unpolished. It almost has a struggling artist vibe to it all, a musical hunger I wouldn’t expect from an artist with over twenty-five years, mainstream musical experience.